EU Slams French Bill on Armenian Deaths

By MATTI HUUHTANEN
The Associated Press
Saturday, October 14, 2006; 12:09 AM

HELSINKI, Finland -- The European Union on Friday condemned a French bill making it a crime to deny that the World War I-era killing of Armenians in Turkey was genocide, calling it unhelpful at a critical stage in the Muslim country's EU entry talks.

The bill was approved by lawmakers in France's lower house Thursday, but still needs approval by the French Senate and President Jacques Chirac to become law. Turkey has said the decision would harm relations with France.

Chirac's government is thought to be unlikely to forward the bill for passage by the Senate.

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said "we don't think this decision at this moment is helpful in the context of the European Union's relations with Turkey."

EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn said the bill came at a bad time as the 25-member bloc was trying to avoid "a train crash" in negotiations with Turkey.

"This law is counterproductive," he told reporters.

France, which is home to hundreds of thousands of people whose families came from Armenia, has already recognized the 1915-1919 killings of up to 1.5 million Armenians as genocide. Under the bill, those who contest it was genocide would risk up to a year in prison and fines of up to $56,000.

Armenia accuses Turkey of massacring Armenians during World War I, when Armenia was under the Ottoman Empire. Turkey says Armenians were killed in civil unrest during the collapse of the empire.


© 2006 The Associated Press