French 'genocide' bill: Senate set for January vote

France's Turkish community protesting outside parliament (22 Dec 2011)
Image caption Protesters from France's Turkish community voiced their anger about the bill

The French Senate is to vote by the end of the month on a bill making it illegal to deny that the mass killing of Armenians was genocide, reports say.

The lower house of parliament backed the proposal on 22 December, prompting a freeze in relations with Turkey.

Despite Ankara's angry response, government officials have told French media that the vote will go ahead.

Turkey rejects the term "genocide" to describe the killing of Armenians under the Ottoman Empire in 1915-16.

Armenians say 1.5 million people were either slaughtered or died of starvation or disease when they were deported en masse from eastern Anatolia.

Turkey says the number was closer to 300,000.

France is one of more than 20 countries that have formally recognised the killings as genocide.

Under proposals backed by the National Assembly last month, anyone publicly denying it was genocide would face a year in jail and a fine of 45,000 euros ($58,000; £29,000).

A similar punishment for Holocaust denial has been in place since 1990.

'Useless' bill

Although the bill secured cross-party support among MPs, concerns have been raised among some ministers.

Foreign Minister Alain Juppe has condemned it as "useless and counter-productive" and predicted serious repercussions for relations with Turkey.

Protesters from France's Turkish community rallied outside parliament against the bill last month and Turkey's ambassador to Paris, Tahsin Burcuoglu, was recalled to Ankara. He is now thought likely to return to campaign against the bill's approval in the senate.

If ratified by the upper house, the bill would then go to President Nicolas Sarkozy. Ankara has already halted military and diplomatic relations and has threatened further measures if its passage continues.

The decision to proceed with the senate vote five years on is being seen as an attempt to speed up the progress of the bill.

A similar proposal was backed by the lower house in 2006 but was voted down in the senate the following year.

French businessman Rachid Nekkaz launched a fund on Tuesday to pay the fine of anyone convicted of the offence if it secures parliamentary approval.

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