Azerbaijan warns pro-hijab 'extremists'

Azerbaijan warns pro-hijab `extremists` Baku: The interior minister of Azerbaijan warned on Friday that attempts to stir up discontent about a law preventing girls from wearing the Muslim hijab in schools would not be tolerated.

"In the struggle with extremely dangerous and harmful religious extremism and radicalism, all our officers are watchful and vigilant," Interior Minister Ramil Usubov told Azerbaijan's official government newspaper.

"The relevant authorities will prevent attempts to spread such ideas and violations of stability," he said.

His comments came after several demonstrations against legislation regulating school uniforms which effectively prohibits the wearing of the Islamic headscarf in schools in the mainly Muslim but officially secular republic.

The leader of the Islamic Party of Azerbaijan was also detained on terrorism charges this month after calling for the overthrow of the government, accusing it of violating religious rights by prohibiting the hijab in schools.

Usubov said that Azerbaijan was "one of the best examples of religious tolerance in the world" as well as a country where women's rights are guaranteed.

"Those who want their daughters to cover their heads can do so away from school, at home," he said.

Energy-rich Azerbaijan is a mainly Shiite Muslim country, but after decades of Soviet rule it emerged as one of the most secular states in the Islamic world.

The authorities have imposed restrictions on religious worship and arrested radicals in attempts to prevent the spread of extremism, although critics have accused them of persecuting devout Muslims.