Ahmet Davutoglu.jpg
Photograph: EPA/OLIVIER HOSLET

Turkey is not planning to introduce an Islamic constitution, Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said Wednesday, as a debate about the nature of the country's constitution continues to simmer.

His comments, carried by state news agency Anadolu, follow a call for an Islamic constitution made by Parliament Speaker Ismail Kahraman on Tuesday. Kahraman said that Turkey should be defined as an Islamic nation and have a new religious-based constitution that does not contain the principle of secularism.

Turkey is currently debating changes to its constitution meant to empower the office of the president, currently held by Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Erdogan has distanced himself from Kahraman's remarks, which he described as the legislator's "personal opinion."

However, the debate has once again put the spotlight on the fact that the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) came to power as a mildly Islamist party, a fact that continues to disturb some of the country's top defenders of secularism.

Speaking before parliament, Davutoglu said secularism would be "part of the new constitution, which will secure citizens' freedom of religion and faith."

The constitution will also guarantee that "the state maintains the same distance to all religious groups," the prime minister said.

The speaker's remarks were met with angry demonstrations in front of parliament in Ankara, with police using tear gas against protesters, according to DHA news agency.

Demonstrations against an Islamic constitution were also seen in Istanbul, as well as the western city of Izmir, where police also used tear gas according to images posted on social networks.

Some 11 protesters were arrested during the demonstrations, Cumhuriyet daily reported.

Omer Celik, AKP spokesman, said his party believed in the principal of secularism being maintained in the new constitution.

However he said the party supported a "libertarian secularist" approach over a "militant" separation of state and religion.

Secularism has been a defining characteristic of modern Turkey, founded in 1923 by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.

The concept is mentioned repeatedly in the constitution, which was created in 1980 following a military coup.

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