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Hotel for pious Turks

By day the Turkish women strip down to bikinis and belly-dance by the swimming pool. But at night they swathe their new suntans in headscarves and join their menfolk for dinner.

The Bera Alanya is a five-star hotel on Turkey's Mediterranean coast where men and women have separate swimming pools and alcohol is not served -- but female customers enjoy freedoms they often do not find in the public sector.

The hotel is part of a growing sector in Turkey that caters for devout wealthy Muslims who want to enjoy the beach without compromising their beliefs -- a conservative social class whose support will be key for the ruling AK Party at elections this month.

Women feel more comfortable here wearing their head-to-heel, long-sleeved baggy swimsuits known as Hasemas, which on many Turkish beaches still provoke stares.

"Before we couldn't go to the beach comfortably because we don't wear swimsuits ... We'd look for empty beaches," guest Gamine Oduncu, a 38-year-old mother of two, told Reuters.

"You can wear a Hasema but (on a regular beach) you draw a lot of attention to yourself ... Here everyone looks the same."

Many of the guests are likely to vote for the religiously conservative but reform-minded AK Party in the July 22 election and are part of a constituency that has growing influence.

Many left the more conservative provinces for the big cities to study and make money, but held on to their religious ways.

The issue of religious freedom in secular but Muslim Turkey is set to play an important role in the election. It has already caused deep divisions as the country of more than 70 million people, where Muslim headscarves are banned from universities, public offices and parliament, tries to join the European Union.

Source: Boston
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