France set to ban Turkish ultra-nationalist Grey Wolves group

Move comes after memorial to victims of massacres of Armenians by Turks was defaced outside Lyon

(FILES) In this file photo taken on December 21, 2018, a man wearing a Turkish officer's uniform flashes the Grey Wolves (a Turkish far-right ultranationalist organisation) sign, during a demonstration in support of neighbouring Turkey in the Syrian town of Bizaa, north of Aleppo.  France is to ban a Turkish ultra-nationalist group known as the Grey Wolves, the interior minister said on November 2, 2020, after a memorial to the mass killings of Armenians was defaced at the weekend. The dissolution of the Grey Wolves will be put to the French cabinet on Wednesday, Gerald Darmanin told a parliamentary committee. / AFP / Bakr ALKASEM
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France will ban a Turkish ultra-nationalist group known as the Grey Wolves, after a memorial to the victims of the mass killing of Armenians during the First World War was defaced near Lyon.

The announcement by Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin is expected to anger Turkey at a time when relations between Paris and Ankara are tense.

The move to ban the Grey Wolves, who are regarded as the wing of a party allied to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, will be put to the French Cabinet on Wednesday, Mr Darmanin told a parliamentary committee.

"To put it mildly, we are talking about a particularly aggressive group," he said. "It deserves to be dissolved."

He said any Grey Wolves' actions or meetings can now be punished by fines or imprisonment.

The memorial to the mass killing of Armenians by Turks of the Ottoman Empire, regarded as genocide by Armenia, was defaced with pro-Turkish slogans including "Grey Wolves" and "RTE", Mr Erdogan's initials.

The incident in the town of Decines-Charpieu took place  as tension between France's Armenian and Turkish communities ran high over the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh.

Turkey has backed its ally Azerbaijan in the conflict over the breakaway in Azerbaijan, which has been populated and governed by Armenian separatists since the 1990s, when the Soviet Union split.

Four people were wounded outside Lyon last Wednesday in clashes between Turkish nationalists and Armenians protesting against Azerbaijan's military offensive in Nagorno-Karabakh.

Armenians have long campaigned for the mass killing of their ancestors to be recognised as genocide.

In Turkey, the Grey Wolves are closely linked to the Nationalist Movement Party, or MHP,  of Devlet Bahceli, which has a political alliance with Mr Erdogan's Justice and Development Party.

Analysts consider the MHP to be critical to Mr Erdogan's continued domination of Turkey, with Mr Bahceli's support a key factor behind his victory in the 2018 presidential election.

The Grey Wolves are the militant wing of the MHP and caused havoc on the streets in Turkey during the 1970s and '80s when its members frequently clashed with leftist activists.

Those affiliated to the Grey Wolves, known as Bozkurtlar in Turkish, and the MHP traditionally show their loyalty with a hand gesture in which the little and index fingers are raised.

Mehmet Ali Agca, the Turkish nationalist who tried to assassinate Pope John Paul II in 1981, was linked to the Grey Wolves.

"It is excellent news," French MP Yael Braun-Pivet, who chairs the laws committee where Mr Darmanin made the announcement, said on Twitter.

"These violent groups have no place in our country."

Weeks of tension between France and Turkey reached a peak last month after the beheading of a French schoolteacher who showed his pupils cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed.

After Samuel Paty's death, President Emmanuel Macron delivered a defence of free speech, including the right to mock religion, prompting Mr Erdogan to question his mental health.

France responded by recalling its ambassador to Ankara for consultations.