Turkey recalls France envoy over genocide bill

Vote sparks Turkish outrage, Ankara threatens reprisal; bill goes to French Senate, unclear if it will pass.

Erdogan and Sarkozy R 311 (photo credit: REUTERS/Umit Bektas)
Erdogan and Sarkozy R 311
(photo credit: REUTERS/Umit Bektas)
PARIS - France took the first step on Thursday to criminalizing the denial of genocide, including the 1915 mass killing of Armenians by Ottoman Turks, prompting Ankara to recall its ambassador for consultations.
Tension has risen over the draft law put forward by members of President Nicolas Sarkozy's ruling party, with Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan warning there would be grave political and economic consequences if the bill passed.
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A Turkish official told Reuters its ambassador in Paris had been recalled for consultations after lawmakers in France's National Assembly - the lower house of parliament - voted overwhelmingly in favour of the bill. It will now be debated next year in the Senate.
A French diplomatic source said Paris regretted the move and considered fellow NATO member Turkey an important partner.
"I don't understand why France wants to censor my freedom of expression," Yildiz Hamza, president of the Montargis association that represents 700 Turkish families in France, told Reuters outside the National Assembly.
Earlier, about 3,000 French nationals of Turkish origin demonstrated there peacefully ahead of the vote on a day that also marks 32 years since a Turkish diplomat was assassinated by Armenian militants in central Paris.
France passed a law recognising the killing of Armenians as genocide in 2001. At the time Turkey was in the midst of an economic crisis, and although it pressured French lawmakers, figures show trade between the two countries nevertheless grew steadily with little diplomatic backlash.
The French lower house first passed a bill criminalising the denial of an Armenian genocide in 2006, but it was rejected by the Senate in May this year.
The new bill was made more general to outlaw the denial of any genocide, partly in the hope of appeasing the Turks.
It could still face a long passage into law, though its backers want to see it completed before parliament is suspended at the end of February ahead of elections in the second quarter.
Bernard Accoyer, speaker of the lower house, said on Wednesday he doubted the bill would pass by the end of the current parliament as the government had not made the bill priority legislation.
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.
Successive Turkish governments and the vast majority of Turks feel the charge of genocide is an insult to their nation. Ankara argues that there was heavy loss of life on both sides during fighting in the area.