Turkey studying retaliatory measures against France

Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan said on Friday Turkey was studying retaliatory measures against France following approval of a law making it a crime to deny Armenians suffered genocide at the hands of Ottoman Turks.

Reuters Yeni Şafak
"Turkey's foreign trade volume with France is $10 billion and this is equal to 1.5 percent of France's whole foreign trade volume. We're going to make the proper calculations and then take necessary steps," Erdogan said in a speech.

He did not elaborate, but said the centre-right government would take measures within Turkey and abroad.

But the ruling AK Party, facing a rise in nationalism ahead of next year's parliamentary elections, must tread a careful line not to damage its success at bringing political and economic stability to the Muslim country seeking EU membership.

France's lower house of parliament voted for the bill on Thursday, despite warnings from French firms that it would create repercussions for their business in Turkey, a fast-growing market which imported 4.7 billion euros' worth of French goods in 2005.

"There are no real threats in current trade, though perhaps (there could be) with some big contracts," a French Foreign Ministry spokesman told reporters at a regular briefing in Paris.

The bill still needs approval from the upper house, the Senate, and President Jacques Chirac to take effect.

Turkey denies claims that Armenians suffered genocide in Turkey during World War One, arguing that large numbers of both Muslim Turks and Christian Armenians died in a partisan conflict that accompanied the collapse of the Ottoman Empire.

Hundreds of French firms such as Renault and Carrefour have large investments in Turkey, employing thousands of Turkish workers. This week Turkish consumer groups and some trade unions called for boycotts of French products.

The Turkish Consumers Union called on its members to begin boycotting French products, starting on Friday with energy group Total.

"The boycott will continue increasingly until the law on the so-called Armenian genocide is annulled," the union's chairman Bulent Deniz said in a press release.

But economists questioned the effectiveness of a boycott on France as Turkey accounts for only 1.3 percent of France's exports.

Past Turkish calls for boycotts against other countries had an effect only for a short time.

Big Turkish business have largely opposed a boycott and Economy Minister Ali Babacan said on Thursday the government would not encourage it either.

The controversy over an alleged genocide goes to the heart of modern Turkey which is struggling to push through EU-inspired reform which often clash with its own history and customs.

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

"In my view the new law is likely to be counterproductive," EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn said in Helsinki.

"We don't achieve real dialogue and real conciliation through ultimatums. It will have a negative impact on Turkey coming to terms with its past," Rehn said.

(Additional reporting by Brian Rohan in Paris and Tarmo Virki in Helsinki)



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