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Reuters, AFP
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has added his voice to a growing chorus of Turkish protests over French plans to make it a crime to deny that Armenians suffered genocide at the hands of Ottoman Turks in World War One.

The French parliament is due to discuss the bill, proposed by the Socialist opposition, on October 12.

"What will you do when Turkey's prime minister goes to France and says 'there was no Armenian genocide'? Are you going to put him in prison?" the state Anatolian news agency quoted Erdogan as telling a group of French businessmen in Istanbul. "We expect you to expend every effort to prevent this (bill from passing)," he told them.

"Our warnings should not be taken lightly. The seriousness of the situation must be understood," Erdogan added.

For his part, Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul warned that France risks being barred from economic projects in Turkey if it adopts the controversial bill. "The information we have is that the adoption of the bill is quite a high possibility," Gul told the largest-selling Hurriyet newspaper.

If the bill is passed, he said, French participation in major economic projects in Turkey, including the planned construction of a nuclear plant for which the tender process is expected to soon begin, will suffer. "We will be absolutely unable to have (such cooperation) in big tenders," Gul said, adding that he had "openly" warned his French counterpart Philippe Douste-Blazy about the repercussions of the bill.

In remarks to the Yeni Safak newspaper, Gul said: "The government's reaction and the general reaction of the public will be inevitable if the developments continue as they are.... The French will lose Turkey."

Turkey's Foreign Ministry and a group of Turkish lawmakers who visited Paris last week have already said the draft bill will damage bilateral economic and political ties. Large French companies including Renault and Carrefour have large investments in Turkey, which has a fast-growing economy and is a candidate to join the European Union. Total bilateral trade amounted to nearly $10 billion in 2005.

The French bill has also been condemned by six Turkish intellectuals prosecuted in the past for comments on the Armenian massacre. "Writing history is not the job of states or politicians," said novelist Elif Shafak, one of the authors quoted in Monday's edition of the liberal daily Radikal.

"I consider what is happening in France as a negative development that leaves progressives and democrats in both France and Turkey in a difficult situation," wrote Shafak, who was recently acquitted of "denigrating the national identity" in a novel dealing with the 1915-1917 massacres.

Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink, hit by one six-month suspended sentence for his writings on the Armenian question and again on trial for calling the killings genocide, said the bill was "stupid." "This type of law undermines any debate between Turks and
Armenians," said Dink, editor of the bilingual Turkish Armenian weekly newspaper Agos. "Turkish and Armenian people need to dialogue, to discuss their common history."

Though the conservative majority in France's parliament opposes the bill, Turkey fears many opponents will not vote against it for fear of upsetting France's 400,000-strong Armenian diaspora ahead of elections next year.

Turkey began its EU entry talks last year, though is not expected to join for many years. Recognition of the Armenian "genocide" is not a condition of its EU membership, though some EU politicians including French President Jacques Chirac have suggested it should be.
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