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Thursday, 24 January, 2002, 10:38 GMT
France seeks to heal rift with Turkey
Turkish soldier in training
Turkish sanctions have mainly hit the French defence sector
By the BBC's Tabitha Morgan in Istanbul

The French Defence Minister Alain Richard has arrived in Turkey on a trip designed to improve military relations, which were damaged by a French law passed last year recognising the killing of Armenians early in the last century.

Mr Richard is expected to hold talks on Friday with counterpart Sabahattin Cakmakoglu and with Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit.

Relations between the two countries became extremely cool after the French parliament passed the law and Mr Richard's arrival is seen as going a long way to heal the breach between the two countries.

Turkish military officials say the visit is intended to mark the resumption of bilateral defence talks but they have cautioned that any thawing in relations is likely to be a gradual process.

Turkey bitter

Ankara recalled its ambassador to Paris and abandoned a series of joint defence projects last year following the passing of the French legislation.

Alain Richard
Mr Richard's country is a prominent EU member
Relations have been slowly improving since then, but when the French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine visited Ankara in July he was left in no doubt about the level of Turkish bitterness over the bill and was told that sanctions against French companies would continue.

But diplomats say that Turkey will welcome the chance to repair its relationship with France - a prominent member of the European Union - as it seeks membership for itself.

The Armenian issue remains a hugely sensitive one in Turkey, and one which the country is not likely to forget overnight.

The Turkish authorities reject the term genocide, claiming that around 300,000 Armenians were killed during the collapse of the Ottoman Empire.

Armenians themselves argue that the figure is closer to 1.5m.

See also:

02 Feb 01 | Europe
Turkey: Angry man of Europe
08 Nov 00 | Media reports
French vote recognises 'Armenian genocide'
04 Oct 00 | Europe
Turkey scraps US visit
23 Sep 00 | Media reports
Turkey angry at US Armenian genocide move
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