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(AP, AFP) - The French and Armenian presidents laid a wreath Friday at a Paris monument commemorating the mass killings of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire.

French President Jacques Chirac welcomed Robert Kocharian of Armenia at the Elysee Palace with a hug. The two held talks for an hour before driving to the nearby monument inaugurated in 2003 on the banks of the Seine River.

The French parliament officially recognized the killings as a genocide in 2001, one of several moves that strained ties between Paris and Ankara. Last year, Chirac told Turkey it would have to recognize the mass killings as genocide if it wanted to become a member of the European Union, insisting the French would otherwise vote Turkey out in a referendum.

The Armenian community in Paris hailed Friday's ceremony as an "extremely important" gesture recognizing the Armenian genocide, according to a statement by the Committee for the Defense of the Armenian Cause.

Chirac urged on Friday also urged Armenia to improve its ties with Turkey. "The president asked President (Robert) Kocharian (of Armenia) about the development of his dialogue with Turkey" in particular on the genocide issue, a French presidential spokesman said after a meeting between the two leaders.

Chirac "hoped that Armenia would develop this dialogue with Turkey with a view to improving relations" with Ankara, the spokesman said, and encouraged Kocharian "to look for elements of improvement with Turkey." He pointed out that French support for Turkish membership of the European Union was conditional on Ankara's sharing the values of the EU, and membership "naturally required a duty of remembrance" on the genocide issue, the spokesman said.

The talks also touched on the disputed enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh, where long simmering tensions have flared recently, sparking fears that the escalation of hostilities along a ceasefire line between Armenian and Azeri forces could lead to a new war.

Chirac said that "France was very attached to a lasting solution of the problem and supports the principles of settlement that have been worked out," the spokesman said. The two presidents also discussed the idea of staging an " Armenian cultural year in France" in 2007.

France has a large community of Armenians, estimated at around 400,000.
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