Turkish PM lashes out at France over over new Armenia genocide law


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The Independent Online

The Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan yesterday renewed his personal attack on Nicolas Sarkozy, accusing the French President of racism and anti-Turkish behaviour after the French parliament passed a Bill making it illegal to deny the Armenian genocide. Mr Sarkozy's office said that the law would come into effect in two weeks.

The French law will punish anybody who denies or minimises the massacre of between 1.2 and 1.4 million Armenians on the instructions of the Ottoman authorities in 1915. In a letter to Mr Erdogan, Mr Sarkozy says the law does not target any individual state and urged Ankara to take into account its "common interests" with France.

Mr Erdogan said yesterday that Turkish retaliation would be held back since France might "correct its mistake". This appears unlikely to happen so Turkey may move to withdraw its ambassador and ban French military aircraft and naval vessels from entering Turkish airspace or waters.

More damagingly, Turkey could stop placing large defence orders with French companies and exclude France from winning contracts for nuclear power stations and other big projects.

"What has happened is an effort to gain votes through anti-Turkishness," Mr Erdogan told his AK Party's members of parliament. The French presidential election will take place on 22 April and 6 May and Mr Erdogan, and most Turks, believe he is trying to win the 500,000-strong Armenian vote. As in the past, the Turkish prime minister turned on Mr Sarkozy personally, saying that his grandfather had been part of the Jewish community in Thessaloniki that had been given refuge by the Ottoman Empire in the 15th century after being expelled from Spain by the Inquisition. He said of Mr Sarkozy that "regardless of how much anti-Turkish feeling he displays, his history coincides with the history of Turkey".

Mr Erdogan and many Turks have developed a loathing for Mr Sarkozy, who has also played a leading role in keeping Turkey out of the European Union. He famously said that every school child knew that Europe ended at the Bosphorus.

When the French lower house of parliament first passed the Bill, Mr Erdogan accused France of massacring 15 per cent of the Algerian population after 1945. He added that Mr Sarkozy's father had been a soldier in Algeria at the time.

The French Foreign Minister, Alain Juppé, said the new law was "ill-timed", but called on Ankara to remain calm. "We have very important economic and trade ties," Mr Juppé added. "I hope the reality of the situation will not be usurped by emotions."

There is a limit to what Turkey can do without damaging itself since France is its fifth biggest export market and bilateral trade in the first 10 months of last year was $13.5 billion (£8.65bn).