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AFP
The Council of Europe's parliamentary leader criticized Monday suggestions by French President Jacques Chirac that Ankara should recognize World War I era massacres of Armenians as genocide if it wanted to join the European Union.

"One can't change the rules in the middle of the game," Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) President Rene van der Linden told reporters, referring to EU membership conditions for Turkey.

Referring to the French President, who said Saturday that Turkey needed to come to terms with its Ottoman past, van der Linden said: "This is not the first time he has changed his mind."

The EU has not made recognizing the 1915-1917 massacres as genocide a condition for entry into the block, and up until Saturday France had refused to make a direct link between the two. But when asked in Yerevan whether the two should be linked, Chirac said "Honestly, I think so."

"If there are serious questions, we will tackle them but we don't add to (existing) conditions," van der Linden said in describing the procedure for entry into the EU. "If there is a loss of confidence, we create mistrust then the entire negotiation will suffer," then lawmaker added.

Founded 60 years ago, the Strasbourg-based Council of Europe is not part of the European Union.

In a related development, a leading French Socialist who hopes to run for the presidency said Sunday his party shared Chirac's view on the Armenian genocide. "This is also the position of the Socialist Party," said former finance minister Dominique Strauss-Kahn, a contender for selection as the Socialist candidate for next year's French presidential election.

Turkey strongly denies responsibility for genocide, arguing that 300,000 Armenians and at least as many Turks died in an internal conflict sparked by attempts by Armenians to win independence in eastern Anatolia.

"We have considered that acknowledgment ... of the Armenian genocide should be made a condition of Turkey's entry into the EU," Strauss-Kahn said on television. "There are plenty of other conditions, but this one is symbolic," he stressed.

France, with 400,000 citizens of Armenian descent, officially recognized the events as genocide in 2001, putting a strain on relations with Turkey. Previously, however, France had refused to make a direct link between the genocide issue and Turkey's EU membership bid. The bloc of 25 nations has not made it a condition.

(Council of Europe photo: Rene van der Linden.)
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