(Headscarved protesters attend a demonstration against the ban on wearing headscarves at university, in Ankara April 12, 2008. REUTERS/Umit Bektas)

Turkey lifted a ban on women wearing the Islamic head scarf in state institutions on Tuesday, ending a generations-old restriction as part of a package of reforms the government says are meant to improve democracy.

The ban, whose roots date back almost 90 years to the early days of the Turkish Republic, has kept many women from joining the public work force, but secularists see its abolition as evidence of the government pushing an Islamic agenda.

The new rules, which will not apply to the judiciary or the military, were published in the Official Gazette and take immediate effect in the majority Muslim but constitutionally secular country.

“A regulation that has hurt many young people and has caused great suffering to their parents, a dark period, is coming to an end,” Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan told a meeting of his AK Party, which has its roots in Islamist politics.