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Turkey angered by genocide vote

France's parliament has voted 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 honour, suspended military, economic and political ties 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, though did not specify them. President Nicolas Sarkozy, whose party supported the bill, still needs to sign it into law, but that is largely considered a formality.

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 politician from Mr Sarkozy's conservative UMP party who wrote the bill, did not deny that, saying that politicians are supposed to pass laws that they think their constituents want. "That's democracy," she said.

However this domestic gamble could have major international consequences. France's relations with Turkey are already strained, in large part because Mr 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 stand-off over Iran's nuclear programme 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. "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."

The bill has also drawn massive protests in Paris, with thousands of Turks converging on the city this weekend to denounce it. On Monday, smaller rival demonstrations, separated by a substantial police presence, gathered outside the Senate.

The Senate voted 127 to 86 to pass the bill late yesterday. Twenty-four people abstained. The measure sets a punishment of up to one year in prison and a fine of 45,000 euro for those who deny or "outrageously minimise" the killings.

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