Turkey asks France to throw out genocide bill

Armenian woman mourns dead child in 1915 Armenians say as many as 1.5 million people died in 1915-16

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Turkey's foreign minister has asked the French Senate to reject a bill criminalising genocide denial, as it moves closer to becoming law.

Ahmet Davutoglu said the passing of the bill would leave a "black stain on France's intellectual history".

Turkey froze political and military ties when the bill was passed by the National Assembly last month.

France recognises the mass killing of Armenians in Ottoman times as genocide - a description Turkey rejects.

Armenians say as many as 1.5 million people were slaughtered or died of starvation and disease when they were deported in 1915-16.

Ankara says closer to 300,000 people died, and that Turks were also killed as Armenians rose up against the Ottoman Empire when Russian troops invaded eastern Anatolia, now eastern Turkey.

More than 20 countries have formally recognised the killings as genocide.

'Political interests'

Senators are due to debate the bill on Monday and are likely to approve it despite advice from one of their own committees this week.

Under the bill, those publicly denying genocide would face a year in jail and a fine of 45,000 euros (£29,000: $58,000).

Start Quote

[The bill] is in no way aimed at any state or people in particular”

End Quote Nicolas Sarkozy French president

About half a million ethnic Armenians live in France and their vote is considered important in the presidential election this spring.

There are suspicions in Turkey that the bill is aimed at wooing this electorate.

"We invite each French senator to stop for a while and think beyond all political interests," Mr Davutoglu said in televised remarks.

"We expect [President Nicolas] Sarkozy, his party and the French Senate to respect European values before anything else," he said.

President Sarkozy sent a conciliatory letter to Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, released by the French embassy in Ankara on Friday.

A Turkish man holds a placard reading "Genocide is a lie" in front of the French Consulate in Istanbul, 23 December 2011 Turks have demonstrated outside the French consulate in Istanbul

"I hope we can make reason prevail and maintain our dialogue, as befits allied and friendly countries," he wrote.

He added that the bill was "in no way aimed at any state or people in particular".

The fate of the Armenians under the Ottomans remains a sensitive issue inside Turkey.

On Thursday there were large demonstrations to mark five years since the murder of Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink.

Mr Dink, shot dead outside the Istanbul offices of Turkish-Armenian newspaper Agos, had angered Turkish nationalists by using the term "genocide".

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