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Reuters, AFP, dpa
Turkish lawmakers have warned that French trade might be hurt and illegal Armenian immigrants expelled from Turkey if France's parliament passes a law punishing anyone denying the Armenian genocide of 1915.

Ankara recalled its ambassador to France in May after opposition Socialists presented the bill in parliament, where it is due to be debated on Oct. 12.

Turkey denies charges that Ottoman Turks committed a systematic genocide against Armenians during World War One, saying large numbers of both Christian Armenians and Muslim Turks perished in a partisan conflict raging at that time.

"If this bill is passed, it will damage the interests not only of France, but also of Armenia," Sukru Elekdag, a lawmaker in Turkey's main opposition party, the Republican People's Party (CHP), told reporters at Turkey's embassy in Paris on Wednesday.

While the conservative majority in France's parliament opposes the bill, the Turkish deputies said they believed many opponents would not vote against it for fear of upsetting the 400,000 strong Armenian Diaspora in France ahead of elections next year.

Elekdag was part of a delegation of lawmakers from both the ruling majority and the opposition who were in Paris to meet their French counterparts and lobby against the bill. "There are 70,000 Armenians today who are in Turkey illegally and who are working ... All these people will be expelled (if the bill is passed)," he said, adding the bill would "poison relations between Turkey and France".

Mehmet Dulger, head of the Turkish parliament's foreign affairs committee, agreed that the expulsion of illegal Armenian immigrants was a possibility. "It is something to be considered," he said. "That's not all. France has interests that are very important (in) Turkey like nuclear power-plant projects, helicopter projects and other kinds of projects which will be slowed down because we feel that this law is hostile."

France, which has already passed a law recognizing the 1915 massacre as genocide, had 4.66 billion euros ($5.9 billion) of exports to Turkey last year, according to Trade Ministry data.

French President Jacques Chirac said during a trip to Armenia last weekend that Turkey needed to recognize the killings as genocide if it wanted to join the European Union. There is widespread skepticism in France over Turkey's push to join the European Union and Chirac has said the French should be able to hold a referendum to decide on further enlargement.

Meanwhile, Turkish groups in the Netherlands expressed concern Thursday that voters of Turkish origin will boycott elections after candidates for parliament were bumped off the electoral lists after refusing to acknowledge the Armenian genocide. Last week the Netherlands' two biggest political parties, the ruling Christian Democrat CDA and the opposition PvdA labor party, scrapped three prospective MP's of Turkish origin from their list of candidates for the November 22 elections because they would not recognize the World War I massacre of Armenians as a genocide.

"We have heard from every side that voters of Turkish origin are disappointed and do not understand, and we fear this could have consequences for the participation of the Turkish community in Dutch politics," said Ahmet Azdural of IOT, an umbrella group representing some 300 local Turkish organizations in the Netherlands.

"We have called on all organizations and bodies together, with national and local politicians of Turkish origin, to meet Sunday in Capelle aan den IJssel (near Rotterdam) to agree on a course of action," Azdural told AFP.

There are 235,000 voters of Turkish origin in the Netherlands, corresponding in terms of population to some three seats in the 150 seat parliament. Statistically the Turkish community in the Netherlands votes in higher numbers than other immigrant communities and they traditionally favor the PvdA labor party.

In a related development, the editor of a Turkish-Armenian magazine was Wednesday awarded the Norwegian Bjornson prize, worth 100,000 kroner ($15,200), for highlighting massacres of the Armenian minority by Ottoman Turks in 1915. Agos' editor Hrant Dink has frequently written on the subject that continues to generate controversy in Turkey today, and has had frequent run-ins with Turkish authorities.

The prize was to be handed out at a November 24 ceremony in the Norwegian west coast city Molde, the Norwegian news agency NTB reported. The prize is awarded by the Bjornson Academy, established in 2003 to protect freedom of expression. Members include researchers from Norway and other countries as well as authors, journalists and politicians including two former Norwegian prime ministers, Kare Willoch and Kjell Magne Bondevik.

Academy president Knut Odegard said the November 24 seminar would focus on Armenians.

The prize was named after Norwegian poet, author and dramatist Bjornstjerne Bjornson (1832-1910). Previous winners were Vivian Fouad and Samir Morcos from Egypt for their efforts to promote ties between Muslims and Christians, and Esma Redzepova from Macedonia who has championed the rights of the Roma people.
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