Turkey may step up moves against Paris on genocide: diplomat

5th January 2012, Comments 0 comments

Turkey may step up action against France if the French Senate votes this month to outlaw denial of the Armenian genocide, a Turkish diplomatic source said Thursday.

"There may be a downgrading of the Turkish diplomatic representation in Paris. It is probable," if the upper house of parliament approves the bill criminalising denial of the disputed 1915 genocide, the source told AFP.

The French lower house approved the law last month, threatening anyone who denies that the massacre of Armenians by Ottoman Turk forces amounted to genocide with jail.

Ankara froze political and military ties with France when the bill was passed by the National Assembly, and threatened further measures if it continues through the Senate or is approved by President Nicolas Sarkozy.

Turkey has withdrawn its ambassador to Paris, but embassy officials said Thursday that he will return next Monday in order to monitor the Senate's handling of the bill.

In 1915 and 1916, during World War I, many Armenians died in Ottoman Turkey. Armenia says 1.5 million were killed in a genocide. Turkey says around 500,000 died in fighting after Armenians sided with Russian invaders.

France recognised the killings as a genocide in 2001, but the new bill would punish anyone who denies this with a year in jail and a fine of 45,000 euros (60,000 dollars).

Modern Turkey is still very sensitive about the issue, and has accused France of attacking freedom of expression and free historical enquiry.

France is home to an estimated 500,000 citizens of Armenian descent, and Sarkozy's UMP party has been accused of backing the law in order to pander to a key electoral group ahead of presidential and legislative elections this year.

It is backed by a cross-party majority of lawmakers but has not won universal support in the government, where some ministers fear it will hurt diplomatic and trade ties with a NATO ally and major economic partner.

Foreign Minister Alain Juppe has said publicly that the bill is "badly timed" and has been reported as describing it privately as "stupid".

© 2012 AFP

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