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House panel approves Armenian genocide resolution

WASHINGTON - Turkey, a key Muslim ally of the United States, angrily withdrew its U.S. ambassador yesterday after a congressional committee approved a resolution branding the World War I-era killing of Armenians a genocide.

The House Foreign Affairs Committee endorsed the resolution, which Turkey sees as a historical affront, over the objections of President Barack Obama. The 23-22 vote sends the measure to the full House, where prospects for passage are uncertain.

"I declare such a decision that was taken with political concerns in mind to be an injustice to history and to the science of history," Turkish President Abdullah Gul said in the capital, Ankara. "Turkey will not be responsible for the negative results that this event may lead to."

Historians estimate that up to 1.5 million Armenians were killed by Ottoman Turks around the time of World War I, an event widely viewed by scholars as the first genocide of the 20th century.

Turkey denies that the deaths constituted genocide, saying the toll has been inflated and those killed were victims of civil war and unrest.

The reconciliation agreement reached in October between Turkey and Armenia calls for a panel to discuss "the historical dimension" of the killings. Turkey says U.S. lawmakers should stay out of the issue.

The committee's vote is awkward for Obama, who pledged as a presidential candidate to recognize the Armenian deaths as a genocide. The administration reversed course, as Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton acknowledged yesterday.

"Circumstances have changed in very significant ways," Clinton told reporters traveling with her in Costa Rica. She said the United States supports a Swiss effort to resolve the historical dispute. The Foreign Affairs Committee approved a similar genocide measure in 2007, but it was not brought to the House floor for a vote following intensive pressure by President George W. Bush.

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