Sat, Oct 14, 2006 - Page 6 News List

Genocide bill passes in France

NATIONAL ASSEMBLY The lower house of France's parliament approved new legislation that makes it illegal to deny the large-scale murder of Armenians

AP , PARIS

Protesters shout slogans against France and make nationalist gestures during a demonstration in front of the French embassy in Ankara, Turkey, on Thursday. French lawmakers approved a bill making it a crime to deny that mass killings of Armenians in Turkey during and after World War I amounted to genocide. Deputies in France's National Assembly voted 106-19 to approve the bill.

PHOTO: AFP

French lawmakers approved a bill on Thursday that would make it a crime to deny that mass killings of Armenians in Turkey during World War I was genocide, a move described by Turkey as a "great disappointment in our country."

Ankara quickly said the vote would harm bilateral relations, but the bill could face an impossible struggle to become law -- or even make it to the upper house of parliament for further discussion.

The majority of the 557 lawmakers who sit in France's National Assembly, the lower house of parliament, did not take part in the vote. The bill passed 106-19.

Turkey lashed out at the French for passing the bill, with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan calling the legislation a "great shame and black stain for freedom of expression."

"A historical mistake has been committed," Erdogan said in a written statement that also cautioned against over-reaction.

Turkey's Foreign Ministry said ties with France "have been dealt a heavy blow."

French Trade Minister Christine Lagarde also said the issue could jeopardize, ties, telling Dow Jones Newswires that the bill's approval "puts at stake what is an important economic relationship for us."

French President Jacques Chirac's administration opposed the bill, although it did not use its majority in the lower house to vote it down. Instead, most ruling party lawmakers did not vote on the text that was brought by the opposition Socialist Party.

But Chirac's government is thought unlikely to forward the bill for passage by the Senate, the upper house.

Chirac didn't comment on the vote on Thursday, although he has said that the bill "is more of a polemic than legal reality."

His former spokeswoman Catherine Colonna, now France's minister for European affairs, told parliament on Thursday that the government did not look favorably on the bill.

"It is not for the law to write history," she said before the vote.

The Armenian genocide issue has become intertwined with ongoing debate in France and across Europe about whether to admit mostly Muslim Turkey into the EU. France is home to hundreds of thousands of people whose families came from Armenia.

Chirac has said that he favors Turkey's bid to join the EU. But on a visit to Armenia last month, he also urged Turkey to recognize "the genocide of Armenians" in order to join the EU.

"Each country grows by acknowledging its dramas and errors of the past," Chirac said.

In Brussels, the EU's executive Commission said on Thursday that the bill, if ever it became law, would hamper reconciliation between Turkey and Armenia.

Turkey vowed to use "all of our efforts and actions at every level" to prevent the bill from becoming law.

France has already recognized the killings of up to 1.5 million Armenians from 1915 to 1919 as genocide; under Thursday's bill, those who contest that it was genocide would risk up to a year in prison and fines of up to 45,000 euros (US$56,000).

A 1990 French law makes it a crime to deny the Holocaust.

Armenia accuses Turkey of massacring Armenians during World War I, when Armenia was ruled by the Ottoman Empire. Turkey says Armenians were killed in civil unrest during the collapse of the empire.

Supporters of Turkey abruptly left the French parliament building after the vote without speaking to reporters. Outside, a few dozen protesters of Armenian descent celebrated, singing the French the Marseillaise, -- the French national anthem -- when the bill passed.

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