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French Upper House Sends Genocide Bill To President

The French Senate has approved a bill that would make it a criminal offense to deny Armenians suffered genocide at the hands of Ottoman Turks during World War I.

The bill was adopted by the lower house of the French parliament last month and now goes to President Nicolas Sarkozy for his signature.

The legislation makes it a criminal offense to deny genocide, including the mass killing of Armenians in eastern Turkey in 1915-16.

Violators can be punished with up to a year in jail and 45,000 euros ($57,000) in fines.

Addressing senators on January 23, the French minister in charge of relations with parliament Patrick Ollier called "denial...the supreme insult to the collective memory that we share."

"It sweeps away the peoples' suffering and condemns the victims to be forgotten," Ollier added in a presumed reference to the fierce Turkish opposition to any characterization of those Ottoman-era mass killings as "genocide." "Those who encourage it are fomenting hatred that could have been and should have been extinguished with time."

Armenia and France say more than 1 million Armenians were killed in Ottoman Turkey during World War I in deliberate acts of genocide.

Turkey rejects the term and cites a heavy loss of life of both sides during fighting in eastern Turkey in 1915-16.

After the National Assembly lower house overwhelmingly approved the bill in December, Turkey briefly recalled its ambassador to Paris for consultations, and suspended military and economic cooperation.

Turkey has threatened punitive measures against France if the legislation is enacted, and has already curbed some kinds of cooperation with Paris.

France formally recognized the killings as "genocide" in 2001, but provided no penalty for anyone rejecting the label.

France also recognizes the Holocaust carried out against Jews and Roma by Nazi Germany during World War II as genocide.

The new bill outlaws the denial that any of those events was "genocide."

* CORRECTION: This story has been corrected to exclude from French-recognized "genocide" cases the mass murder of Tutsis and moderate Hutus in Rwanda in 1994.

compiled from agency reports