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January 31, 2012 6:08 pm
A controversial French law making it a crime to deny that the mass killing of Armenians in 1915 amounted to genocide has been referred to the country’s constitutional council, offering a potential way out of a deep rift between France and Turkey.
A cross-party group of senators and members of the National Assembly gathered sufficient support to be able separately to appeal to the council on Tuesday to rule the law unconstitutional.
Turkey’s leaders expressed their relief at the move, which removes pressure on Ankara to impose threatened sanctions.
Turkey, which denies that the slaughter of Armenians in eastern Anatolia in the final years of the Ottoman Empire was genocide, reacted furiously when the National Assembly and then the Senate approved the law over the past two months. The dispute plunged already cool relations between the two countries into crisis at a time when France and other western allies were seeking Turkish support over the emergency in Syria.
Although Alain Juppé, the foreign minister, opposed the genocide bill, President Nicolas Sarkozy and François Hollande, the opposition Socialist party challenger in the coming election, both supported it, enraging Ankara which accused them of pandering to the 500,000 Armenian community in France.
Mr Sarkozy expressed irritation over the constitutional referral to his centre-right UMP party at a meeting on Tuesday, the French news agency AFP reported, saying party members who backed the move had done him a disservice.
But Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey’s prime minister who had previously denounced the law as racist, said: “The senators did what we would expect from France ... I hope the constitutional council will do what is necessary.”
Tahsin Burcuoglu, Turkish ambassador to France, praised the senators and deputies for their “courage” for breaking party ranks to question the law while Abdullah Gul, president, also welcomed the move.
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