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By Eva Kuehnen

Written by: Staff

BERLIN, Oct 25 (Reuters) A German Muslim politician, who received death threats after calling on other Muslim women to take off their veils, stood up for her right to free speech today and was backed by the head of the German parliament.

Ekin Deligoez, a Turkish-born Muslim who grew up in Germany, told Reuters that she stood by a newspaper interview in which she addressed Muslim women, saying: ''Wake up to today's Germany.

This is where you live, so take off your veils.'' Deligoez was harshly criticised by religious leaders and the media in Turkey for the interview, published earlier this month.

She has received death threats and is under police protection.

She told Reuters: ''This is my opinion and I stand by it.'' Norbert Lammert, the head of the lower house of parliament and a prominent ally of conservative Chancellor Angela Merkel, came to Deligoez's defence today.

''I'm very happy that I've got the backing of the head of the parliament,'' she said. ''Most threats were supposed to intimidate me, but in a democratic society it should be possible to also express a critical opinion.'' ''This discussion just shows that it is not really about the veil anymore. It is about whether we are able to express our opinions. The veil has become more of a political issue than we realised,'' she added.

Lammert called the threats to Deligoez ''a severe attack on the core values of our constitution''.

''These attacks are not acceptable. Mrs Deligoez has the right to express her opinion, like everyone else, irrespective of her political status or function,'' he said in a statement.

Integration has become a priority for Merkel's government as concern grows about Islamic radicalisation across Europe and the emergence of an underclass of disillusioned young Muslims, mainly Turks, in Germany.

The government sponsored a conference last month to promote dialogue with Germany's 3.2 million Muslims.

It was overshadowed by a row that broke out after a Berlin opera house cancelled Mozart's ''Idomeneo'' over concerns some scenes could enrage Muslims and pose a security threat.

The cancellation sparked condemnation from politicians and artists who warned Germans against bowing to fears of terrorism.


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