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Turkish warships block drilling rig near Cyprus

Turkish warships block drilling rig near Cyprus
Turkish warships block drilling rig near Cyprus. picture-alliance/dpa/AP Photo/Saipem
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Turkey came under criticism on Monday after its warships continued to block a rig from reaching a location off the coast of Cyprus where the Italian energy company Eni is scheduled to drill for gas.

Cyprus government spokesman Nicos Christodoulides told the state broadcaster RIK that the rig remained anchored about 50 kilometers (30 miles) from the drilling target off the southeastern coast.

Christodoulides said both the government and Eni were determined to see that drilling go ahead as planned.

Turkish warships also prevented other merchant vessels from approaching the area, citing ongoing military maneuvers, Christodoulides said. The government of Cyprus said a Turkish notice blocking off the area for military activity violates international law and is legally invalid.

Turkey is against drilling, saying it disregards the rights of breakaway Turkish Cypriots to the island's natural resources.

However, the Cypriot government claims that it has the sovereign right to drill for gas and share any income equitably if the island is reunified.

Greece's Foreign Ministry has condemned what it calls Turkey's "blatant violation” of Cyprus' sovereign rights, as well as its disregard for international law.

It added that Turkey's "provocative” behavior wasn't appropriate for a country that has worked to join the European Union.

In 1974 Cyprus was divided into a Greek-Cypriot south, where the internationally recognized government is seated, and a Turkish-Cypriot north, which only Turkey recognizes. Turkey has more than 35,000 troops stationed there.

EU warns Turkey

European Commission spokeswoman Mina Andreeva cautioned Turkey to respect the territory of EU member states and to avoid ratcheting up tensions.

"Turkey needs to commit unequivocally to good neighborly relations and avoid any kind of source of friction, threat or action directed against a member state," Andreeva said.

In a post on his official Twitter account, European Council President Donald Tusk wrote that he had spoken to Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades and called on Turkey to "avoid threats or actions” against EU members and to commit to "peaceful dispute settlement.”

This is not the first time that Turkey has used areas south of Cyprus for naval drills in response to the island nation's hydrocarbons search. However, it is the first time that it has taken such a step to prevent drilling.

Cyprus became a member of the European Union in 2004, but only the southern part of the island enjoys full benefits.

av/rc (AP, DPA)

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