Turkey to recall ambassador if France bans genocide denial

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Turkey will recall its ambassador and freeze ties with Paris if French lawmakers approve a bill banning the denial of the Armenian genocide next week, he told AFP on Thursday.

"There will be irreparable consequences in all bilateral relations," ambassador Engin Solakoglu said, adding he expected to be called back to Ankara for an indefinite period from December 22.

That is when France's National Assembly is expected to pass a law banning the denial of the 1915 to 1916 massacre, which Armenians regard as a deliberate genocide while Turks argue the deaths were a side-effect of war.

France, which has a large population of Armenian descent, has recognised the event as a genocide since 2001, but the new law, proposed by a member of President Nicolas Sarkozy's majority party, has strained ties with Ankara.

"Turkey considers this a hostile act by the French executive," Solakoglu told AFP. "All cooperation with the French government, all joint projects, will be frozen."

A Turkish parliamentary delegation, led by its foreign affairs committee chief Volkan Bozkir, is due in Paris on Monday to lobby officials in a last minute bid to head of Thursday's vote.

If the law is passed as expected, anyone in France who publicy denies the genocide could face a year in jail and a fine of 45,000 euros ($58,000).

Most historians agree that between 500,000 and 1.5 million Armenians died in a series of massacres and deportations from Asia Minor in the Turkish-led Ottoman Empire in 1915 and 1916.

Armenians say up to 1.5 million of their people were killed during World War I by forces belonging to Turkey's former Ottoman Empire.

Turkey refuses to call the killings a genocide and says 300,000 to 500,000 Armenians, and at least as many Turks, died in combat or of starvation when Armenians rose up and sided with invading Russian forces.

Sarkozy has called on Turkey to recognise the killings as genocide and in the past promised his country's large Armenian community the support a law criminalising its denial.

Modern day Armenia, now independent, and around 20 countries regard the killings as a genocide.

Sarkozy's government has had tense relations with Ankara on other issues. Paris opposes Turkey's bid to join the European Union and has worked to block the process within Brussels institutions.

© 2011 AFP

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