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Demonstrators wave Turkish flags in front of the Reichstag, the seat of the lower house of parliament Bundestag in Berlin, Germany, June 1, 2016, as they protest against a disputed vote in Germany's parliament on Thursday, on a resolution that labels the killings of up to 1.5 million Armenians by Ottoman forces as genocide. Words read ' The German People' REUTERS/Hannibal Hanschke

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By Paul Carrel

BERLIN (Reuters) - Chancellor Angela Merkel has public commitments that mean she will miss a disputed vote in Germany's parliament on Thursday on a resolution that labels the killings of up to 1.5 million Armenians by Ottoman forces as genocide, a spokeswoman said.

Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said earlier on Wednesday the resolution, which German lawmakers are expected to approve, was "ridiculous" and would damage relations between the two countries.

Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan urged German lawmakers not to be cowed by Turkey's warnings and to go ahead with the motion. "I am sure: the politicians in the Bundestag see it the same way and will not allow themselves to be intimidated," Sargsyan told German mass-selling daily Bild in an interview.

The symbolic resolution labels a mass killing of Armenians by Ottoman Turkish forces in 1915, during World War One, as "genocide". It follows similar steps pursued in other parliaments, including France and Canada.

The opposition Greens thrust the resolution onto the agenda at a time when Merkel, a driving force behind an EU-Turkey deal to cut the number of illegal migrants entering Europe from Turkish territory, cannot afford friction with Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan.

"At the moment, this vote is due in the morning or at lunchtime and as things stand the chancellor will not take part in the vote in the German Bundestag because she has public appointments," spokeswoman Christiane Wirtz said on Wednesday.

By skipping the vote, Merkel risks criticism at home over her stance towards Turkey. Critics accuse her of going soft on Ankara over human rights because of her desire to stem the flow of migrants.

COMEDIAN'S CRUDE POEM INFURIATED ERDOGAN

In April, she drew fire for allowing German prosecutors to look into charges against a comedian who mocked Erdogan in a crude poem. The comedian, Jan Boehmermann, has accused Merkel of serving him "up for tea to a highly strung despot".

Wirtz said Merkel had told her she voted with her conservatives' parliamentary party in an internal straw poll on the Armenian issue on Tuesday at which only one lawmaker voted against and five abstained.

Merkel is due to give a speech on digital issues in Berlin late on Thursday morning, before having a meeting with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg.

Turkey accepts that many Christian Armenians were massacred in clashes with Ottoman forces but denies that hundreds of thousands were killed, that there was any organised campaign to wipe out the Armenians or that there were any such orders from Ottoman authorities.

Sargysan, the Armenian president, urged the Bundestag not to buckle to Turkish warnings. "If one makes compromises for short-term political interests, then one ends up doing so again and again. And that is bad for Germany, that is bad for Europe and the world," he was quoted by Bild as saying.

Erdogan said at a televised news conference on Tuesday that the German parliamentary resolution would damage bilateral ties.

The migrants deal between the EU and Turkey has significantly reduced undocumented migration into Europe, easing political pressure on Merkel at home. But it has been under a cloud since its strongest proponent in the Turkish government, Ahmet Davutoglu, was pushed out as prime minister last month.

Since then, Erdogan has questioned aspects of the agreement and some of his allies have even threatened to unleash a new wave of refugees on Europe.

"I have the feeling that this deal is anyway built on sand and, with a partner like Turkey, will be difficult to implement over time," Sargsyan said.

The resolution, which is formally supported by Merkel's conservative bloc, the centre-left Social Democrats and the Greens, uses the word "genocide" in the headline and text.

(Writing by Paul Carrel; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

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