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French President Orders New Genocide Denial Law

2/29/2012 2:56 AM ET

French President Nicolas Sarkozy on Tuesday ordered his government to draft a new law to punish anyone denying the Armenian genocide in France, minutes after the country's top court ruled that the earlier version of the legislation violated the country's Constitution.

Earlier on Tuesday, France's Constitutional Council ruled that "punishing anyone contesting the existence of... crimes that legislators themselves recognized or qualified as such, legislators committed an unconstitutional attack on freedom of expression."

The Court noted that any such law would have to be "necessary, adapted and proportional" to the desired effect. More than 130 French lawmakers across the political divide had appealed to the constitutional court to examine the bill.

Soon after the ruling, Sarkozy's office said in a statement that the French President "measures the immense disappointment and the profound sadness of all those who had welcomed with recognition and hope the adoption of this law."

"The President of the Republic considers that [genocide] denial is intolerable and must therefore be punished. He has asked the government to prepare a new draft taking into account the decision of the Constitutional Council," the statement added.

The developments come after both Houses of the Parliament approved the controversial genocide bill last month and forwarded it to Sarkozy for signing it into law. Sarkozy was expected to ratify the measure by the end of this month, but was prevented from doing so when the Constitutional Court was in the process of deliberating on the bill.

The legislation struck down by the Constitutional Court on Tuesday stipulated a year in jail and a fine of EUR 45,000 on anyone in France denying genocide. Incidentally, the measure was tabled in the Parliament by Sarkozy's UMP party.

Turkey, which had strongly opposed the genocide bill since its introduction in the French Parliament, welcomed Tuesday's Constitutional Court ruling, with Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu saying in a statement that it was "pleasing that a grave mistake has been corrected by France's highest legal body."

Turkey had recalled its envoy from France and froze ties with Paris after the bill was passed by the French National Assembly in December. Ankara also suspended all economic, political, military meetings with France in protest.

During a visit to Armenia in October, Sarkozy had urged Turkey to recognize the mass killing of Armenians by Ottoman Turks as genocide, saying: "Turkey, which is a great country, would honor itself by revisiting its history like other countries in the world have done."

Armenians claim that at least 1.5 million people were killed by the Ottoman Turks in 1915-16. Nonetheless, Turkey denies the occurrence of any "genocide" of Armenians, insisting that those killed were victims of the chaotic times during the collapse of the Ottoman Empire and before the birth of modern Turkey in 1923. However, more than 20 countries have formally recognized the mass killings of Armenians under the Ottoman Empire as genocide.

Turkey and Armenia have not had any diplomatic or economic relations after Armenia declared its independence in 1991. In addition, Turkey also closed its borders with Armenia in 1993 as a token of support for Azerbaijan, which had a territorial conflict with Armenia.

France recognizes the mass killing of Armenians by Ottoman Turks as an act of genocide. Critics of the genocide law consider it as a political tactic aimed at gaining the support of some half a million ethnic Armenians living in France ahead of the upcoming Presidential elections in which Sarkozy is seeking re-election as UMP candidate.

by RTT Staff Writer

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