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Turkey acts to better protect women from abuse

Associated Press

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) – Turkey’s Parliament marked International Women’s Day on Thursday by approving a package of laws aimed at better protecting women and children from abuse.

As it vies for European Union membership, Turkey _ a predominantly Muslim country _ is struggling to discard long-held cultural practices that denigrate women in a largely patriarchal society. It also is fighting to curb “honor killings” and murders of women deemed to have tarnished the reputation of their relatives, sometimes by having a premarital affair or a child out of wedlock.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan began the day by addressing a women’s rights conference in the southeastern city of Mardin. “We will provide legal and financial assistance and shelters to the victims,” he said in his speech.

Parliament quickly complied by passing laws in Ankara that increase penalties against abusers of women and children, and allow police to intervene faster to protect victims and to force abusers to wear electronic monitoring devices. Parliament also promised to create more shelters for such victims.

Meanwhile, a crime and a protest also drew attention to the issue of women’s rights in Turkey.

Diyar Bengitay, a 40-year-old Azeri mother of three, was shot and killed on Thursday by a Turkish relative in Istanbul after she left home following an argument with her husband, the state-run Anadolu Agency said. Police said the attacker was mentally unstable.

Four Ukrainian women’s rights activists staged a topless demonstration in Istanbul to protest domestic violence against women in Turkey.

The members of Ukraine’s Femen group chanted slogans and displayed banners during their one-minute protest, with one reading: “Stop acid attacks!” Using makeup, they also portrayed themselves women who had been beaten or suffered acid burns at the hands of husbands or in-laws.

Police quickly dragged the demonstrators to a vehicle and drove them away.

Before the protest, Inna Shevchenko, another member of the women’s group, told Associated Press Television that their goal was to show the sufferings of Muslim women to the world.

“So the message for Turkish women who are celebrating Women’s Day is not to wait until your husband brings flowers or chocolates,” said Shevchenko. “Just remember about your rights. Go out on the street and fight for that. This is the message.”

In 2005 Turkey changed its penal code to remove many laws that discriminated against women, made rape within marriage a crime, and barred sexual harassment in the workplace.

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Associated Press cameraman Mehmet Guzel in Istanbul contributed.

(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)