Turkey fumes over French genocide law

Turkey has slammed the French Senate`s adoption of a contentious bill to outlaw denial of the Armenian genocide by Ottoman Turks as disrespectful and unjust.

Paris/Ankara: France urged Turkey on Tuesday not to overreact after the French parliament adopted a bill making it illegal to deny the mass killing of Armenians by Ottoman Turks nearly a century ago was genocide.

But Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, scheduled to address parliamentary deputies from his AK Party on Tuesday, was expected to heap scorn on NATO ally France over the law which Turks see as an insult to their nation, a travesty of history and an infringement of principles of free speech.

Speaking on Canal+ television, France`s Foreign Minister Alain Juppe, who was personally against the move, said the new law was "ill-timed," but called on Ankara to remain calm.

"We need good relations with it and we need to get through this excessive phase," Juppe said. "We have very important economic and trade ties. I hope the reality of the situation will not be usurped by emotions."

Some Turkish newspapers listed possible measures Ankara might take. These included the recall of its ambassador from Paris and telling the French ambassador to go home, reducing diplomatic ties to charge d`affaires level, and closing Turkish airspace and waters to French military aircraft and vessels.

Erdogan, speaking shortly before Monday`s French vote, said the issue of future official visits to France would be thrown into uncertainty if the Senate passed the bill.

French firms stand to lose out in bids for defense contracts and other mega-projects such as nuclear power stations.

Turkey could also seek to trumpet allegations that French actions in Algeria in the 1950s and 1960s were also tantamount to genocide.

"Satan Sarkozy"

Morning headlines in Turkish newspapers were anything but calm. "A guillotine to free thought" said Star, while Aksam described the French move as "A guillotine to history."

"Shame on France" cried the Vatan daily. While Sozcu, a small newspaper that usually directs its scorn at Erdogan, found a new target with "Satan Sarkozy."

The mayor of Ankara has spoken of renaming the street where the French embassy is located to Algeria Street and erecting a memorial to Algerian victims of French colonial oppression in front of the embassy.

Lawmakers in the French upper house (Senate) voted in favor of the draft law outlawing genocide denial on Monday after almost six hours of debate.

The lower house had backed it in December, prompting Ankara to cancel all economic, political and military meetings with Paris and briefly recall its ambassador for consultations.

The bill now goes to President Nicolas Sarkozy to be ratified, and some analysts believe Turkey might delay announcing measures to see how Sarkozy handles the process.

Turkey`s ambassador in Paris, Tahsin Burcuoglu, said the vote would lead to a "total rupture" of relations between the two countries and Ankara could seek to downgrade its diplomatic presence in the French capital.

Armenia, backed by many historians and parliaments, says about 1.5 million Christian Armenians were killed in what is now eastern Turkey during World War One in a deliberate policy of genocide ordered by the Ottoman government.

The Ottoman empire was dissolved after the end of the war, but successive Turkish governments and the vast majority of Turks feel the charge of genocide is a direct insult to their nation. Ankara argues there was heavy loss of life on both sides during fighting in the area.

Bureau Report

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