Turkish PM urges Sarkozy to block Armenia genocide bill

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Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan appealed Friday to French President Nicolas Sarkozy to block an Armenian genocide bill and warned of "serious consequences" if it is adopted.

The legislation before the French parliament would criminalise the denial of the killings of Armenians by the Ottoman Empire as genocide, a move long resisted by Ankara.

"This bill directly targets the Turkish Republic, the Turkish nation and the Turkish community living in France, and it is hostile," Erdogan said in a letter sent to Sarkozy and quoted by the Anatolia news agency.

In the letter, Erdogan warns of "irreparable" damage to Franco-Turkish relations if the bill is passed, saying there will be "serious consequences regarding political, economic and cultural... ties".

The issue is "sensitive" and "the demands of third parties should not hold captive the ties" between the two countries, Erdogan said in a reference to Armenia, which uses diplomatic channels to pressure Turkey about genocide.

Armenia says up to 1.5 million of its people were killed during World War I by forces belonging to Turkey's former Ottoman Empire.

Turkey rejects the term genocide and says between 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.

Turkey's ambassador to Paris said on Thursday that Ankara would recall him and freeze ties with France if lawmakers approve the bill in a vote next Thursday.

Ambassador Engin Solakoglu said he expected to be called back for an indefinite period from December 22.

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 off Thursday's vote.

French business leaders based in Turkey also said that Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu had summoned them and asked them to put pressure on their boards.

The minister reportedly warned of drastic consequences on their businesses should they fail to ensure the bill is shelved or rejected.

Several hundred French firms operate out of Turkey, including leading car manufacturers and insurance companies.

If the law is passed as expected, anyone in France who publicly 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.

France, which has a large population of Armenian descent, has recognised the event as genocide since 2001 and Sarkozy has called on Turkey to recognise the killings as genocide.

Modern day Armenia and around 20 countries regard the killings as genocide.

© 2011 AFP

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