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EU Criticizes French Vote to Punish the Denial of Armenian Genocide

October 13, 2006|Achrene Sicakyuz | Times Staff Writer

PARIS — Another potential barrier to Turkey's entry to the European Union surfaced Thursday when the French National Assembly approved a bill that would punish anyone who denied that the killing of Armenians by Ottoman Turks during and after World War I was genocide.

Under the legislation, asserting that the massacres, expulsions and imprisonment that killed an estimated 1.2 million Armenians in the former Ottoman Empire did not constitute genocide can be punished by up to a year of imprisonment and a $57,000 fine.

The EU, which began discussing Turkey's membership last year, strongly criticized the vote, which also drew rebukes from the Turkish government.

"In the case this bill would become a law, it would prevent the dialogue and debate that are necessary for reconciliation," said a spokeswoman for Olli Rehn, the EU commissioner for enlargement.

The Turkish government threatened to retaliate by boycotting French products.

"No one should harbor the conviction that Turkey will take this lightly," Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul said. "From now on, France will never describe itself as the homeland of freedoms."

Protesters in Ankara, the Turkish capital, hurled eggs at the French Embassy, and in Istanbul demonstrators marched down the city's main commercial thoroughfare and laid a black wreath at the gates of the French Consulate.

The Turkish government denies that genocide took place, and it has prosecuted artists, authors and intellectuals for statements regarding the issue.

The Armenian community in France, which numbers about 400,000, pressed hard for the measure and hailed the vote as a long-awaited victory.

"The memory of the victims is finally totally respected," said Alexis Govciyan, a prominent French Armenian political activist.

The legislation passed on a vote of 106 to 19, with many abstentions among the 577 assembly members.

It must also pass the Senate to be sent to the president. The current government opposes the bill.

"Based on our experience, we know it is not a good thing to legislate on such questions," French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin said Thursday.

achrene.sicakyuz@latimes.com

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