ANKARA(AFP: The Turkish government Tuesday withdrew a controversial bill from parliament that could overturn men’s convictions for child-sex assault, after an angry public backlash that saw thousands take to the streets. Critics had said the bill — which would allow the release from jail of sex assault convicts if they marry their victims — would legitimise rape of minors. Its withdrawal back to commission for amendments marks a rare concession to popular opposition by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), which has dominated politics since 2002.

“We are taking this bill in the parliament back to the commission in order to allow for the broad consensus the president requested, and to give time for the opposition parties to develop their proposals,” Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said at a news conference in Istanbul. “This commission will evaluate and take into account all sides and surely a solution will be found,” the prime minister added. With the issue becoming a rallying cause for Turkey’s embattled opposition, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had earlier called for a compromise. “Taking into consideration the criticism and recommendations from different sections of society, I see great benefit in solving this problem through broad consensus,” he said, quoted on the official presidency website.

If the bill had passed, it would have permitted the release from prison of men guilty of assaulting a minor if the act was committed without “force, threat, or any other restriction on consent” and if the aggressor “marries the victim”.

Opposition parties from across the political spectrum had heavily criticised the bill, which was approved in an initial parliamentary reading on Thursday. It was expected to be put forward again in parliament on Tuesday but since last week, there have been protests in which thousands of people urged the government to withdraw the bill.

The main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) had vowed to go as far as the constitutional court to block the legislation. But the Turkish government emphasised the bill was not being entirely dropped and would be amended at commission level.

Officials have insisted the draft legislation sought to ease a considerable social problem in a country where child marriage is widespread, especially in the southeast.