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Turkey and France in growing confrontation over French ‘genocide bill’

Turkey and France traded barbs Thursday, with the Turkish ambassador recalled from Paris. Turkey also suspended all bilateral political, economic and military cooperation.

By Michail VafeiadisContributor / December 22, 2011

The French National Assembly today passed a controversial bill penalizing anyone who denies the Armenian genocide by Ottoman forces almost a century ago.  

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The bill, which now has to be voted on by the Senate, provoked a furious Turkish reaction.  Ankara is recalling its ambassador to France while freezing official contacts between the two countries. 

“We are recalling our ambassador in Paris to Ankara for consultations," said Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, Associated Press reports. 

Ankara lobbied hard for the French government to shelve the bill and warned  of potential retaliatory measures. Earlier this week, a delegation of Turkish MPs and businessmen visited Paris to request that the government of President Nicolas Sarkozy abandon the bill.

"As of now, we are canceling bilateral level political, economic and military activities," Mr. Erdogan said. "We are suspending all kinds of political consultations with France" and "bilateral military cooperation, joint maneuvers are canceled as of now," he added.

Erdogan said that he will annul any permissions given to French military vessels to dock at Turkish ports and would consider on a case-by-case basis requests for military overflights and landings.  The Turkish prime minister said that "This decision is cause for concern not only for France where there are efforts to make gains through enmity toward Turks and Turkey, and in general terms, through Islamophobia, but also for Europe and principles defended by Europe."

The French bill requires a prison term of up to one year and a fine of $58,000 (45,000 euros) to anyone who publicly denies the mass killings of the Armenians during World War I.  In 2001, France officially recognized the ‘Armenian genocide’ but a subsequent parliamentary effort to criminalize it was dropped by the Senate.

"It is important, in the current context, that we keep the paths of dialogue and cooperation open," French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said in a statement.

French lawmakers were vexed over what they saw as Turkish interference into the country’s internal affairs.