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France makes denying Armenian genocide a crime

PARIS - France's parliament voted Monday to make it a crime to deny that the killings of Armenians by Ottoman Turks nearly a century ago constituted a genocide, risking more sanctions from Turkey and complicating an already delicate relationship with the rising power.

Turkey, which sees the allegations of genocide as a threat to its national honor, suspended military, economic and political ties with France and briefly recalled its ambassador last month when the lower house of parliament approved the same bill.

Before Monday's Senate vote, Turkey threatened more measures if the bill passed. The measure now needs to be signed by President Nicolas Sarkozy, whose party proposed it, to become a law.

The debate surrounding the measure comes in the highly charged run-up to France's presidential elections this spring, and critics have called the move a ploy to the garner votes of the some 500,000 Armenians who live in France.

Valerie Boyer, the senator from Sarkozy's conservative UMP party who wrote the bill, did not deny that, saying that politicians are supposed to pass laws they think their constituents want.

"That's democracy," she said.

But this domestic gamble could have major international consequences. France's relations with Turkey are already strained, in large part because Sarkozy opposes Turkey's entry into the European Union. The law will no doubt further sour relations with a NATO member that is playing an increasingly important role in the international community's response to the violence in Syria, the standoff over Iran's nuclear program and peace negotiations in the Middle East.

"It is null and void for us," Turkey's Justice Minister Sadullah Ergin said on live TV immediately after the bill's passage Monday. "It is a great disgrace and injustice against Turkey. I want to tell to France that you have no value for us in the slightest degree, we don't care."

While most historians contend that the 1915 killings of Armenians as the Ottoman Empire broke up was the 20th century's first genocide, Turkey vigorously denies that.

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