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Thousands mark genocide anniversary in Armenia


Thousands flocked on Wednesday to a hilltop memorial above Yerevan to mark the 98th anniversary of the mass killings of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire during World War I which Armenia wants recognised internationally as a genocide.

In the annual ceremony broadcast by all national television channels, huge crowds headed to the memorial that commemorates the massacres to lay flowers at the eternal flame.

"Today we bow to the memory of innocent victims," President Serzh Sarkisian said in a statement.

He attacked modern-day Turkey for refusing to accept that the killings were genocide -- a term strongly rejected by Ankara.

"It is our duty to realise and to bring the attention of the international community to the fact that denial of the genocide constitutes direct continuation of that very crime," said Sarkisian.

On Tuesday night, activists of the nationalist Dashnaktsutyun party's youth wing burned Turkish flags and led a 10,000-strong torch-lit procession in Yerevan.

"Each torch symbolises our eternal fight. The blood of innocent victims will never be forgotten," one of the march participants, 23-year-old Ashot Kazarian, told AFP.

Using both diplomatic levers and its influential diaspora abroad, Armenia has long sought to win the massacre's international recognition as genocide.

Last year, a diplomatic row erupted between Ankara and Paris when France's then-president Nicolas Sarkozy initiated a law criminalising denial of the mass killings as genocide.

France's top court later struck down the law on the grounds that it infringed freedom of expression.

Armenians say up to 1.5 million people were killed during World War I as the Ottoman Empire was falling apart, a claim supported by several other countries.

Turkey argues 300,000 to 500,000 Armenians and at least as many Turks died in civil strife when Armenians rose up against their Ottoman rulers sided with invading Russian troops.

Over 20 countries have so far recognised the massacres as genocide.