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(AFP) - France will put all issues to Turkey during negotiations over it joining the European Union, "including that of the Armenian genocide," French Foreign Minister Michel Barnier said Monday.

"What has to be done now is start membership negotiations which are going to be very long, very difficult, during which we will put all issues on the table, including that of the Armenian genocide, with the hope of obtaining a response from Turkey before membership," he told French radio station RTL.

The 1915-1917 massacre of Armenians during the end of the Ottoman Empire has been a sensitive subject for Turkey, which has railed against other countries accepting the Armenians' account of the bloodshed as a "genocide". Although the French parliament passed a 2001 law applying the word "genocide" to the killings, the French government avoided using the term until December 14 -- just three days before Turkey and the European Union agreed to start membership talks.

Barnier talked of the "Armenian genocide" in parliament. French President Jacques Chirac supports Turkey joining the European Union, but he faces deep opposition from his own ruling party and the majority of voters.

To add the Armenian issue to a list of others -- most notably Ankara's recognition of the Greek Cypriot government -- is seen as a bargaining chip in the membership negotiations that are to begin in October next year, and a way of showing the French public that Turkey is being made to heed Paris's voice.

Barnier said that Chirac, in supporting Turkey, "is expressing a vision, expressing where the interest of our country, our continent, lies for him." The French president has promised that the final decision on whether Turkey gets to join the European Union or not, as far as French voters are concerned, will come in a referendum at the end of the negotiations.

(GI-Photolur photo: Thousands of Armenians demonstrating against Turkish membership of the EU during an EU summit in Brussels on Friday.)
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