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BAKU/YEREVAN -- Baku has lodged a formal protest with the French Foreign Ministry over an ongoing visit to the breakaway Azerbaijani region of Nagorno-Karabakh by four French parliament deputies, RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service reports.

The members of the French National Assembly headed by Guy Teissier arrived in the breakaway region on August 22.

Speaking in Nagorno-Karabakh's de facto parliament later that day, Teissier, who is a member of France's ruling Union For A Popular Movement (UMP), described the trip as a gesture of "solidarity."

The four met today with Bako Sahakian, the president of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reports.

Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry spokesman Elman Abdullayev told RFE/RL the Azerbaijani authorities were not informed in advance about the visit, which he said showed disrespect for Azerbaijan's sovereignty and territorial integrity.

Abdullayev said a second letter of protest had been sent to the French National Assembly, and the four deputies had been declared persona non grata in Azerbaijan.

Azerbaijan's Trend news agency quoted Azerbaijan's ambassador to France, Elchin Amirbekov, as saying the French Foreign Ministry had already responded to the protest.

Amirbekov quoted the ministry as saying the four lawmakers traveled to the disputed territory in their individual capacity and did not represent the French National Assembly.

A statement today on the ministry's website said the members' trip did not reflect a change in France's position on Nagorno-Karabakh. France, Russia, and the United States -- the co-chairs of the OSCE's Minsk group -- have been trying to mediate a solution to the dispute.

France is home to the largest Armenian diaspora community in Europe.

The Azerbaijani government has already blacklisted five other French parliament deputies who visited Nagorno-Karabakh in June 2010. The trip was initiated by Francois Rochebloine, the pro-Armenian deputy chairman of the assembly's Committee on Foreign Affairs.

Nagorno-Karabakh is an Armenian-majority enclave located within Azerbaijani borders. Armenia and Azerbaijan fought a brutal six-year war over the territory that ended only with a cease-fire in 1994, but the enclave's final status remains unresolved.

Read more in Azeri here

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