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POLITICS > Turkey hails as ‘genocide’ bill in France put on hold

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Michel Diefenbacher spearheaded the appeal in the Lower House of Parliament. AA photo

Michel Diefenbacher spearheaded the appeal in the Lower House of Parliament. AA photo

Turkey has hailed a motion by French legislators to halt a bill criminalizing denials of Armenian genocide claims after they produced the 60 signatures required to stop the draft from becoming law.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan extended “wholehearted thanks” to the French senators who appealed the law and voiced hope France’s Constitutional Council would quash the legislation.

“I have no doubt the Constitutional Council will eventually make an appropriate decision,” President Abdullah Gül said, adding that he was “not expecting the French from the very beginning to let their country be overshadowed” by the resolution.

Ankara had reacted furiously last week when the French Senate approved the law that penalizes anyone in France who denies the 1915 killings of Armenians amounted to genocide with jail time and a fine.

On Jan. 24 President Nicolas Sarkozy’s office brushed off angry threats of retaliation by Turkey and vowed to sign the bill into law within a fortnight.

But a left-wing group of senators said yesterday that they had gathered 76 signatures from colleagues opposed to the law. A group from the Lower House of Parliament had also gathered 65 signatures yesterday and had formally requested that the Constitutional Council examine the law.

The move raises the possibility that the law will be dismissed as unconstitutional. The appeal was spearheaded by Jacques Mezard at the Senate and Michel Diefenbacher, the head of the Turkish-French Parliamentary Friendship Group. The groups said they each had gathered more than the minimum 60 signatures required to ask the council to test the law’s constitutionality. If the court finds the law unconstitutional, the legislation will be rejected.

“This is an atomic bomb for the Elysee [Sarkozy’s office], which didn’t see it coming,” said deputy Lionel Tardy, who said most of the 65 signatories from the Lower House were, like him, from Sarkozy’s Union for a Popular Movement (UMP) party. The council is obliged to deliver its judgment within a month, but the period could be reduced to eight days if the government deems the matter urgent.
Turkey welcomes move

Turkish officials were universal in welcoming the development. “The fact that the application was made with over 60 signatures from both houses [of the French Parliament] is a significant development. I extend my wholehearted thanks to those French parliamentarians on behalf of myself and my nation. They did what they were supposed to do. I hope that the Constitutional Council will rectify this unjust process and bring it in line with the values of France,” Erdoğan said.

Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu also hailed the French senators’ move, saying that with this step France embraced its own values.

Turkish EU Minister Egemen Bağış, meanwhile, said yesterday that “freedom of expression is one of the most important features in the EU acquis.” Bağış also noted European Commissioner for Enlargement Stefan Füle’s remarks about the French resolution in which Füle said illuminating history was the business of historians, not politicians.

France has already officially recognized the killings as genocide, but the new law would go further by punishing anyone who denies this with up to a year in jail and a fine of 45,000 euros. Around 20 countries have officially recognized the killings as genocide. Amnesty International has criticized the French law, saying it would violate freedom of expression.

Compiled from AFP, AA and Reuters stories by the Daily News staff.

February/01/2012

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