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Turkey Condemns French Senate's Genocide Vote


Parliamentary Relations Minister Patrick Ollier (left) speaks during the Senate session in Paris on January 23 on the bill criminalizing the denial of genocide.
Turkey has condemned the French Senate's adoption of a bill making it a criminal offense to deny genocide, including the mass killings of Armenians in eastern Turkey nearly a century ago.

A Foreign Ministry statement calls the passage of the bill "an example of irresponsibility." The statement adds that the Turkish government will not hesitate to implement retaliatory measures.

The French Senate approved the bill late on January 23 after the lower house gave its support last month, and the bill now goes to President Nikolas Sarkozy for his signature.

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

Sarkozy is facing an election in April, and critics have accused his allies of using the genocide issue to muster support among France's ethnic Armenians.

Former Turkish Ambassador to France Uluc Ozulker raised that specter in connection with the Senate vote.

"This is a political gesture and it's aimed at bringing new votes to both presidents, both candidates for the presidency," Ozulker said. "This was the last chance for Mr. Sarkozy, the President Sarkozy, in order to be elected [to a] second term."

Scores of pro-Armenian and pro-Turkish demonstrators had to be restrained by police during the Senate debate in Paris.

Reaction on the streets of Istanbul was negative.

"The French people betrayed their own values," Istanbul resident Ozkan Yeginaltay said, according to Reuters. "The Turkish republic is a great country and it will not lose. In the future, the loser will be Sarkozy and his team."

'Written In Gold'

Armenians -- and most historians -- say some 1.5 million Armenians were killed in Ottoman Turkey during World War I in a deliberate policy of genocide.

Armenian Foreign Minister Eduard Nalbandian praised the French vote, calling it a landmark event for human rights worldwide.

"This day will be written in gold," Nalbandian said, "not only in the history of friendship between the Armenian and French peoples, but also in the annals of the history of the protection of human rights worldwide."

Turkey rejects the term genocide and says there was heavy loss of life of both sides during fighting in eastern Turkey in 1915-16.

France formally recognized the Ottoman-era acts as "genocide" in 2001 but stipulated no penalty for anyone rejecting such a characterization. France also recognizes the Holocaust carried out against Jews and Roma by Nazi Germany during World War II as examples of 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

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