By John Keating
After initial hesitation about the need to criminalize denial of the Armenian “genocide,” French Senate leader Jean-Pierre Bel said Thursday that he would ally with those supporting the new law, which is expected to be passed in the Senate next week”.
Bel, 59, the new Socialist President of the Upper House, indicated to journalists that “the debate will start Monday afternoon,” and he said he would rally his party’s supporting position on the legislation.
France’s conservative-dominated National Assembly, or lower house, voted the law in December but it must now be approved by the Senate.
The Senate “Laws Commission” this week ruled the genocide bill “inadmissible” but Bel indicated that the Commission is likely to take a “more nuanced” position when the final vote comes.
Turkey has reacted angrily to the genocide law, disputing a claim by Armenians that 1.5 million people were killed by Turkish forces in 1915. Ankara claims that the number of deaths was around 300,000, due to famine and fighting between Armenians, allied with Russia, and the Turkish army.
The Turkish government has suspended all official visits with France and has banned French naval vessels from docking at Turkish ports. Ankara’s envoy to Paris was also withdrawn in December to protest the genocide law that would mete out one -year jail sentences and USD 60,000 fines to anyone questioning the veracity of the Armenian genocide.
More retaliatory measures could be expected after the vote becomes law after the Senate vote and signature by France’s president.
The Senate President, who is the second highest state figure here and would succeed the president if needed, said Thursday that he was “part of a political group and would rally their position” on the vote next week. The Socialist group is expected to support the new law as it did in the Lower House in December.
The Laws Commission “has expressed itself”, he remarked, noting that the Commission has often moved its position during a formal vote.
Separately, Bel, the first Socialist to rule over the Senate since 1958, said he would support the candidacy of Socialist Francois Hollande in the April presidential elections when he is to run against incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy.
In exclusive comments to KUNA, he said he was also interested in developing strong relations with the foreign press corps.
He also indicated that he was soon intending to undertake foreign trips and might soon go to the United States.