ISTANBUL - The war of words between France and Turkey escalated dramatically on Friday, when the Turkish premier accused Paris of committing genocide in Algeria and of stirring hatred of Muslims.
Furious that French lawmakers had voted on Thursday to outlaw denial of the Armenian genocide in Ottoman Turkey in 1915, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan hit back directly at France's President Nicolas Sarkozy. Earlier, Turkey's ambassador to France had left Paris and Ankara had announced diplomatic sanctions -- banning political visits between the countries -- and frozen military ties between the nominal NATO allies.
"France massacred an estimated 15 percent of the Algerian population starting from 1945. This is genocide," Erdogan told reporters, accusing Sarkozy of "fanning hatred of Muslims and Turks for electoral gains."
"This vote that took place in France, a France in which five million Muslims live, clearly shows to what point racism, discrimination and Islamophobia have reached dangerous levels in France and Europe," he said.
Demonstrators gathered in front of the French consulate in Istanbul, chanting "Down with France" and "Allahu Akbar" (God is greatest). Paris appeared to have been caught off guard by the fury of Turkey's response. Sarkozy, in Prague where he was at the funeral of late Czech president Vaclav Havel, was on the defensive. "I respect the views of our Turkish friends -- it's a great country, a great civilisation -- and they must respect ours," he said. "France does not lecture anyone but France doesn't want to be lectured. France decides its policy as a sovereign nation. We do not ask for permission. France has its beliefs, human rights, a respect for memory."