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French parliament defies Turkey, passes genocide bill

By Clare Byrne

PARIS — France and Turkey were headed for another diplomatic showdown Monday after the French Senate adopted a bill that makes it a crime to deny that Armenians suffered genocide at the hands of Ottoman Turks a century ago.

A majority of 127 senators voted in favor of the bill after more than seven hours of intense debate. Eighty-six members voted against and 24 votes were declared invalid.

Turkey has threatened diplomatic and economic reprisals against France if the bill, which passed the lower house of parliament in December, was definitively adopted.

Under the legislation, people who deny or “outrageously minimize” genocides recognized by France face a year’s imprisonment and $57,000 in fines.

After Monday’s vote, France now officially recognizes two genocides: the Nazi Holocaust during World War II and the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Armenians in eastern Turkey between 1915 and 1917.

The country already has a law punishing Holocaust denial. The text adopted Monday aims to extend the same sanctions to the Armenian massacres, which a dozen countries have labeled a genocide.

Several hundred people demonstrated outside the Senate as the sparsely-attended debate got underway.

Many senators ducked out of voting on a bill that was supported by the main parties despite its risk to relations with a NATO ally.

A group of French protesters of Turkish origin denounced the bill as an attempt to impose a French reading of history.

On the other side of a phalanx of riot police, a group of Franco-Armenians demonstrated in support of the legislation. “It’s a fact (that there was genocide). All we want is for Turkey to recognize that,” an elderly woman told BFM TV.

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu on Monday warned France not to underestimate Turkey, saying Ankara had prepared a raft of punitive measures.

Many Turks already feel betrayed by France because of President Nicolas Sarkozy’s firm opposition to Turkey joining the European Union.

After December’s Assembly vote, Ankara had already suspended bilateral cooperation and temporarily recalled its ambassador.

The Turkish Embassy in Paris says that this time, diplomatic ties could be downgraded, and that French firms could find themselves frozen out of Turkish government contracts.

The French Foreign Ministry on Monday called for restraint and emphasized the importance of Turkey “as a partner and ally.”

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