Turkish citizens from France and other European countries demonstrate in Paris Saturday Jan. 21, 2012, to protest against a law that would make it a crime to deny "genocide" in Armenia Thousands of people took to the streets of Paris on Saturday to demonstrate against the bill

France’s Senate is due to vote on a controversial bill that criminalises denial of the Armenian “genocide”.

MPs in the lower house approved the bill last month, leading to tensions with Turkey.

Ankara froze ties with France after the vote and has promised further measures if the Senate backs the proposal.

Armenians say up to 1.5 million people were killed in 1915-16. Turkey rejects the term genocide and says the number was closer to 300,000.

The BBC’s correspondent in Istanbul, Jonathan Head, says stronger Turkish measures could include the withdrawal of ambassadors and creating more barriers to French businesses in Turkey.

The Turkish government argues that judging what happened to the Armenian community in eastern Turkey in 1915-16 should be left to historians, and that the French law would restrict freedom of speech.

Turkish officials acknowledge that atrocities were committed but argue that there was no systematic attempt to destroy the Armenian people – and that many innocent Muslim Turks also died in the turmoil of the events, in the middle of World War I.

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Analysis

Jonathan Head BBC News, Istanbul

President Sarkozy has sent a letter to the Turkish prime minister stating that the law is not aimed at any country, but only at addressing the past suffering of Armenians.

Ironically, events in the Middle East had started to bring France and Turkey closer together: after initially squabbling over Libya, they have both become leading supporters of the Syrian opposition.

But Turkish emotions over the Armenian issue run very high, and will certainly eclipse any co-operation they might have had over Syria.

France formally recognised the killings as genocide in 2001, one of more than 20 countries which have done so.

The current bill would mean that anyone denying the deaths were genocide would face a jail term and a fine of 45,000 euros (£29,000; $58,000).

If it is passed by the French Senate, as is thought likely, it would need to be ratified by President Nicolas Sarkozy to become law. His party put forward the bill.

France has half a million citizens of Armenian descent, and correspondents say their votes may be important in this year’s presidential elections.

France and Turkey are Nato allies and trading partners.

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