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French Senate Rejects Armenian-Genocide-Denial Bill

The French Senate is dominated by supporters of President Nicolas Sarkozy.

The French Senate is dominated by supporters of President Nicolas Sarkozy.

The French Senate has effectively rejected a bill that would make it a crime to publicly say the World War I-era mass killings of Armenians in Ottoman Turkey did not constitute genocide, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reports.

The bill -- which was drafted by lawmakers from the opposition Socialist Party -- was adopted by the French lower house, the National Assembly, in 2006 amid vehement protests from the Turkish government.

But it also needs to be passed by the Senate, parliament's upper house, in order to become law.

The influential French-Armenian community has for years been trying to push the bill through the Senate, which is dominated by supporters of President Nicolas Sarkozy. The effort has faced tacit resistance from the government.

Spokesman Francois Baroin said on May 4 that the government did not support the draft law co-sponsored by three dozen Socialist senators.

He said existing French legislation already allowed the state to counter public denials of what it has declared was a genocide against Armenians.

Baroin said France recognized the genocide with a special law adopted in 2001. "France continues to believe that [genocide] denialism is unacceptable in any form," quoted him as saying.

A standing committee of the Senate made similar arguments as it openly opposed the bill on May 4. The full chamber then voted 196 to 74 to block a formal debate on the issue.

The move angered several hundred French people of Armenian descent who gathered outside the Luxembourg Palace in Paris, the seat of the Senate, during the debate.

"It's clear that the French Senate bowed to Turkish government pressure and simply found an excuse not to adopt this law," Hratch Varjabedian, one of the organizers of the demonstration, told RFE/RL.

Varjabedian said community leaders would strive to ensure that the senators that defeated the bill do not get French-Armenian votes in the next presidential and parliamentary elections due in 2012.

Many activists will also blame Sarkozy, who is expected to run for reelection. One of his potential challengers, Socialist Party leader Martine Aubry, has reportedly backed the drive to criminalize genocide denial.