Petit says Djorkaeff's absence is due to fear of reprisals

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The Independent Football

A team-mate of Youri Djorkaeff said yesterday that the French striker of Armenian origin did not travel to Istanbul for tonight's international friendly against Turkey because of a fear of reprisals, after the French Senate recognised the World War I killings of Armenians as genocide.

A team-mate of Youri Djorkaeff said yesterday that the French striker of Armenian origin did not travel to Istanbul for tonight's international friendly against Turkey because of a fear of reprisals, after the French Senate recognised the World War I killings of Armenians as genocide.

Emmanuel Petit's statement at a news conference in Istanbul was countered by the French team coach Roger Lemerre, who said that Djorkaeff was injured and his decision had nothing to do with politics.

Newspapers have reported that Djorkaeff refused to come to Istanbul because he did not want to face angry Turkish fans and feared his presence would increase tension and affect his team-mates.

Turks, who say the Armenians died during general civil unrest, are very sensitive on the issue and have in the past organised street protests against similar bills. "Djorkaeff didn't come to Istanbul for political reasons, not because he is injured," Petit, the Barcelona midfielder, said. "We have heard that he has received threats." However, Lemerre said in the same conference that politics had nothing to do with the player's absence.

"Politics must not be mixed with sports. Djorkaeff's Armenian origins are absolutely not the reason for his not coming to Istanbul," Lemerre said.

Armenians say 1.5 million of their people were killed as part of the Ottoman Empire's campaign to force them out of eastern Turkey between 1915 and 1923. Turkey says the death count is inflated and that Armenians were killed or displaced as the Ottoman Empire tried to quell civil unrest. The Ottoman Empire collapsed in 1923.

Last week, French senators approved a draft law recognising the killings as genocide. The bill was sent back to the lower house for final approval. Turkey has warned that its ties with France may be seriously harmed if the bill is approved.

Istanbul police said they would be taking the same precautions applied to every league match, with 1,000 officers on duty at the stadium.

Germany, lacking two key midfielders due to injuries, will field their strongest possible side in tonight's international friendly against a Denmark side eager to try out several new players. Rudi Völler, whose side is unbeaten since he took over as national team coach in July, said before the squad departed for Copenhagen it was important not to waste the positive team spirit that has built up since their poor showing at Euro 2000 in the summer.

Even though Germany will be without the midfielders, Bayer Leverkusen's Michael Ballack and Hertha Berlin's Stefan Beinlich, Völler will be looking for a win against the country who beat Germany 2-0 in the European Championship final in 1992. Beinlich's fellow Hertha Berlin midfielder Dariusz Wosz is in Völler's squad, despite a pinched nerve. In defence, Borussia Dortmund's Jörg Heinrich looks set to start for another injured Hertha player, Marko Rehmer, while Bayer Leverkusen's Jens Nowotny and Bayern Munich's Thomas Linke also look like starting.

Denmark must make do without their veteran goalkeeper Peter Schmeichel, who is out of action until January with a knee injury. This will give Sunderland's Thomas Sorensen the chance to prove his worth.

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