ANKARA - Turkey on Tuesday slammed as discriminatory and racist a bill passed by the French Senate making denial of the Armenian genocide a crime and vowed to impose unspecified sanctions against Paris on a "step-by-step" basis.

French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe appealed to France's "Turkish friends" for calm as Turks reacted furiously to the Senate's approval of the bill Monday.

"The proposal adopted in France is tantamount to discrimination and racism, and it violates freedom of thought," Erdogan said in an address to lawmakers in parliament.

The Turkish premier, who dismissed the bill as "null and void," warned however that his Islamist-rooted government would punish Paris with retaliatory measures if French President Nicolas Sarkozy, whose right-wing UMP party initiated the bill, signs it into law. Hundreds protested outside the French embassy in Ankara and the consulate in Istanbul, chanting slogans such as "Armenian Genocide Is an Imperialist Lie."

Armenia hailed the passage of the bill, President Serzh Sarkisian writing in a letter to Sarkozy: "France has reaffirmed its greatness and power, its devotion to universal human values." The world's largest Muslim body, the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, meanwhile rejected the bill as inconsistent with historical facts.

Meanwhile, Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned Iraqi authorities on Tuesday that Turkey will not remain silent if they start a sectarian conflict in neighbouring Iraq.

"(Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri) al-Maliki should know that: if you start a conflict in Iraq in the form of sectarian clashes, it will be impossible for us to remain silent," Erdogan said in remarks to his lawmakers in parliament, carried on television.

"Those who stand by with folded arms watching brothers massacre each other are accomplices to murder," Erdogan said. The Turkish leader heavily criticised Maliki for his accusation that Turkey was intervening in Iraq's affairs.

Meanwhile, Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki accused his Turkish counterpart Erdogan of provocation on Tuesday. "Erdogan has provoked all Iraqis with his comments, particularly those he believes he is defending," Maliki said in a statement released by his office, in a clear allusion to Iraq's Sunni Arab minority.

The Turkish leader heavily criticised Maliki for his accusation that Turkey was intervening in Iraq's affairs.