December 22, 2011 / 4:03 PM / 7 years ago

Turkey says "racist" bill opens wounds with France

ANKARA (Reuters) - Turkey’s Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan on Thursday accused France of racism and xenophobia for passing a bill making it a crime to deny genocide, including the 1915 mass killing of Armenians by Ottoman Turks.

Erdogan called off all economic, political and military meetings with Paris and cancelled permission for French military planes to land and warships to dock in Turkey, marking a new low in relations between the NATO partners.

“This is politics based on racism, discrimination and xenophobia. This is using Turkophobia and Islamophobia to gain votes, and it raises concerns regarding these issues not only in France but all Europe,” he told a news conference, adding Turkey could “not remain silent in the face of this.”

Erdogan accused French President Nicolas Sarkozy of sacrificing Turkish-French ties to win the votes of ethnic Armenians in France in next year’s election, and said the bill limited freedom of speech in France.

“I am asking now if there is freedom of expression and freedom of thought in France, and I will reply myself, no, there is not,” he said.

The bill was proposed by 40 deputies from Sarkozy’s party and passed in France’s lower house of parliament.

“Turkish-French ties are not just 50-100 years old. It is a centuries-old strong relationship, a process that Mr.Sarkozy sacrifices for the sake of political calculations. This bill will do more injustice to French people than it does to Turks,” Erdogan said.

“This bill has removed the free discussion atmosphere (in France). The principles of liberty, fraternity and equality, which form the basis of the French revolution, have been trampled on.”

He said the bill was voted on by only 10 percent of the French lawmakers who attended the vote at the parliament.

“This step will open heavy wounds that will be difficult to heal in Turkish-French ties,” he said. “This is the first step, the first stage of measures, and they will be implemented decisively.”

The French bill, which will next be put to the Senate, or upper house, for debate in 2012, has triggered outrage in Turkey.

Even though nearly 100 years have passed since the killings that coincided with World War One, successive Turkish governments and the vast majority of Turks feel the charge of genocide is a direct insult to their nation.

The French bill feeds a sense shared by many Turks that they are unwanted by Europe and it fires up nationalist fervor. However, in a more self-confident Turkey, popular reaction has been more muted than in the past.

Writing by Ibon Villelabeitia; Editing by Andrew Heavens

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