Thousands in Turkey protest bill they say is designed to boost influence of Islamic schools

Thousands of people have joined a Turkish opposition rally denouncing a government education reform bill they say is designed to boost the influence of Islamic schools.

The protest was staged Tuesday hours before parliament began debate on the proposal. The bill would extend compulsory education from the current eight years to 12 and pave the way for middle school students to attend Islamic schools.

The bill reverses a military-imposed move dating back to 1997 that closed down religious middle schools, allowing only high school students to attend such institutions.

The issue is so controversial that a legislative committee meeting earlier this month saw a record 12-hour filibuster by a Turkish legislator and ended in scuffles.