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Turkey Not To Invite Sarkozy To Syria Summit

French President Nicolas Sarkozy will not be invited to an international summit on Syria to be held in Istanbul later this month, underscoring Turkey's protest against the French leader for his support for making it a criminal offense denial of the Armenian genocide, Turkish media reported on Monday.

Turkey is hosting the second gathering of the "Friends of Syria" group in Istanbul on March 20-26. The first was held in Tunisia in late February.

Turkish organizers of the summit plan to invite the Heads of State and Governments and Foreign Ministers from about 70 countries. However, France will receive an invitation only for the Foreign Minister, the report said.

Both Houses of the French Parliament passed a bill making it a criminal offense denial of claims that Armenians were subjected to genocide at the hands of the Ottoman Empire during World War I. Sarkozy supported and reportedly even pressured lawmakers to pass the bill, enraging Turkey which sees the legislation as an attempt by Sarkozy to secure support from French-Armenians in the upcoming Presidential election.

The bill was annulled by France's Constitutional Council, ruling that it was contradictory to the principles of freedom of expression enshrined in the country's founding documents. Sarkozy expressed disappointment at the decision and asked the government to prepare a new draft taking into account the decision of the top constitutional body.

Turkey plans to invite Russia and China, two permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, who vetoed a Security Council resolution against Syria and shunned the Tunisia gathering of the Friends of Syria. Foreign Ministers from more than 50 countries, including U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, as well as representatives of the Syrian Opposition had attended the Tunisia meeting.

Meanwhile, Turkey decided to continue sanctions on France it imposed in the wake of the French Parliament adopting the Armenian genocide bill, a government spokesman said on Monday.

Bülent Arinç, who is also Deputy Prime Minister, told reporters after a Cabinet meeting that the government welcomed the ruling of the French Constitutional Council on the controversial bill.

Shortly after the ruling was announced, Davutoglu had said that the Cabinet would meet to consider whether to resume economic, political and military contacts with France that were frozen after the French Parliament passed the law on January 23.

Turkish officials argue that France's center-right government supported the law to secure the votes of some 500,000 Armenians living in France. Ankara denounced the bill as an attack on freedom of expression.

by RTT Staff Writer

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