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Turkey Recalls Diplomat Over Genocide Vote

Turkey on Thursday asked its ambassador in Washington to return to Turkey for consultations over a U.S. congressional panel's decision to approve a bill labeling the World War I-era killings of Armenians as genocide, an official said.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Levent Bilman said ambassador Nabi Sensoy would stay in Turkey a week or 10 days for discussions regarding the vote, which came despite warnings by Turkish officials and President Bush's administration that the bill could harm U.S.-Turkish relations.

The U.S. administration will now try to persuade Democratic leaders not to schedule a vote in the entire House, though it is expected to pass.

"We are not withdrawing our ambassador. We have asked him to come to Turkey for some consultations," Bilman said. "The ambassador was given instructions to return and will come at his earliest convenience."

Earlier, the U.S. ambassador to Turkey, Ross Wilson, was invited to the Foreign Ministry, where Turkish officials conveyed their "unease" over the bill and asked that the U.S. administration do all in its power to stop the bill from passing in the full House, a Foreign Ministry official said. He was speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to make press statements.

Private NTV television said Turkey's naval commander had canceled a planned trip to the United States over the bill. There was no immediate confirmation from the military.

Turkey's leaders condemned the bill Thursday.

"Unfortunately, some politicians in the United States have once again sacrificed important matters to petty domestic politics despite all calls to common sense," President Abdullah Gul said after the U.S. vote on the genocide bill.

"It is not possible to accept such an accusation of a crime which was never committed by the Turkish nation," a government statement said. "It is blatantly obvious that the House Committee on Foreign Affairs does not have a task or function to rewrite history by distorting a matter which specifically concerns the common history of Turks and Armenians."

In Washington, a State Department spokesman, Tom Casey, said he was unaware of Turkey's decision.

"The Turkish government ... has said that they did intend to act in very forceful way if this happens," he said. "We certainly want to continue to have good relations with the government of Turkey."

"If they wanted to bring back their ambassador for consultations or something else, that is their decision. I think it will certainly not do anything to limit our efforts to continue to reach out to Turkish officials to explain our views."

Armenians say up to 1.5 million Armenians were killed in a systematic genocide between 1915-17, before modern Turkey was born in 1923.

Turkey says the killings occurred at a time of civil unrest as the Ottoman Empire was falling apart, and that the numbers are inflated.

Turkey's political leadership and the head of state have told both Bush and U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi that passing the bill could strain U.S.-Turkey ties, already stretched by Washington's unwillingness to help Ankara crack down on Kurdish rebels holed up in Iraq.

Many in the United States also fear that a public backlash in Turkey - a key NATO ally - could lead to restrictions on crucial supply routes through Turkey to Iraq and Afghanistan, and the closure of Incirlik, a strategic air base in Turkey used by the U.S. Air Force.

"27 foolish Americans," daily Vatan said on its front-page headline, in reference to legislators who voted in favor of the bill.

On Wednesday, hundreds of Turks marched to the U.S. Embassy in Ankara and the consulate in Istanbul to protest the bill.

The U.S. Embassy urged its citizens to be alert for possible violence after the vote, amid fears of an increase in anti-American feeling in Turkey.