Chirac says sorry to Turkey for Armenia bill -official


French leader Jacques Chirac has told Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan he was sorry French lawmakers approved a bill making it a crime to deny Armenians suffered genocide at the hands of Ottoman Turks.

A Turkish official said today President Chirac called Erdogan yesterday to say he was very sorry the lower house adopted the bill making it a crime to deny Armenians suffered genocide during World War One.

Turkey denies any genocide, saying the Armenians were victims of a partisan war that also claimed many Muslim Turkish lives. Turkey accuses Armenians of carrying out massacres while siding with invading Russian troops.

Chirac stressed that he understood and shared the reactions and feelings of the Turkish public upset by the bill, a Turkish official said.

The French president's office did not comment when contacted about Chirac's call to Erdogan.

But immediately after Thursday's vote the French Foreign Ministry said it did not support the lower house bill, calling it "unnecessary and untimely" and indicating it might never become law as it still needs to be ratified by both the upper house Senate and French president.

Many Turks also see the genocide vote as a way for the European Union to keep Muslim Turkey out of the 25-member club, which Ankara is negotiating to join.

The European Commission recalled that recognition of the genocide is not a precondition for Turkey entering the EU.

But Chirac and the two leading candidates to replace him in polls due next May -- Nicolas Sarkozy and Segolene Royal -- all say Ankara must accept the genocide before joining the bloc.

France is home to Europe's largest Armenian diaspora.

Erdogan warned on Friday that Turkey was considering retaliatory measures against France.

French firms have warned the bill would create repercussions for their business in Turkey, a fast-growing market which imported €4.7 billion worth of French goods in 2005.