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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

French Lawmakers Stoke Turkish Rage

PARIS -- Ignoring Turkish protests, the French National Assembly approved a bill Thursday making it a crime to deny that Armenians suffered genocide in 1915 at the hands of the Ottoman Turks.

The Turkish Foreign Ministry said the vote would hurt ties between the two NATO allies, and analysts warned that it would complicate Turkey's efforts to secure European Union membership.

The bill might never become law because it still needs the approval of both the Senate and French President Jacques Chirac, but business in France fears it will suffer an immediate backlash in Turkey.

Turkey denies accusations of a genocide of some 1.5 million Armenians during the disintegration of the Ottoman Empire during World War I, arguing Armenian deaths were a part of general partisan fighting, in which both sides suffered.

France's Armenian community, which is up to 500,000 strong and is one of the largest in Europe, had pushed hard for the bill and found cross-party support in the parliament.

Thursday's motion was carried 106-19.

The legislation establishes a one-year prison term and 45,000 euro ($56,570) fine for anyone who denies the genocide -- exactly the same sanctions as those imposed for denying the Nazi genocide of Jews during World War II.

"French-Turkish relations, which have developed over centuries ... have been dealt a blow today as a result of the irresponsible false claims of French politicians who do not see the political consequences of their actions," the Turkish Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

The Turkish economy minister said his government would not encourage a boycott of French goods, but could not rule out economic fallout from the parliament's vote.

The French government stressed it did not support the bill and said it valued Turkey's friendship.

"This is just the beginning of a long legislative process. At each stage, the government will continue to make known its position on this proposed bill, which appears unnecessary and untimely," the French Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

Chirac's ruling Union for a Popular Movement, however, gave its lawmakers a free hand in Thursday's vote, thereby ensuring that it would pass.

"Does a genocide committed in World War I have less value than a genocide committed in World War II? Obviously not," Union member Philippe Pomezec said during the debate.

Some Turks think French politicians are using the bill to snarl Ankara's uphill battle to join the European Union.

The majority of French people are opposed to Turkey joining the 25-nation bloc and fears over its potential membership were given as one of the reasons why France voted last year to reject the EU constitution.

"[This vote] can only worsen prospects for EU accession and will move the Turkish population even further away from pro-EU sentiment," said Lars Christensen, of Danske Bank in Denmark.

Both outgoing President Chirac and Socialist presidential frontrunner Segolene Royal say Turkey must acknowledge the genocide before joining the EU, while conservative frontrunner Nicolas Sarkozy is opposed to its EU entry under any conditions.

The European Commission warned France that its bill would hinder dialogue on the Armenia issue and noted that criteria for talks on Turkey's possible EU entry did not include recognition of the Armenian killings as genocide.

French industrialists say Thursday's vote could damage trade with French exports to Turkey, worth 4.66 billion euros ($5.84 billion) in 2005.

"Time will show. But I cannot say it will not have any consequences," Turkish Economics Minister Ali Babacan told reporters at an event in Brussels.