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Mediterranean tensions 'extremely volatile': Cyprus president

AFP , Friday 4 Sep 2020
 Nicos Anastasiades
Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades speaks during an interview with AFP at the presidential palace in the capital Nicosia on September 4, 2020. AFP

Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades Friday denounced Turkey's "aggressiveness" and urged talks to resolve a row over maritime borders and gas drilling rights, warning spiralling Mediterranean tensions risked destabilising the region.

"There is an aggressiveness, with an intention to control the whole area actually. So we are experiencing a growing tension, and the situation that evolves is extremely volatile and worrisome," Anastasiades told AFP in an interview.

Tensions are running high over Turkey's maritime drilling activities in the eastern Mediterranean which Cyprus, and its ally Greece, say violate their sovereignty.

On August 10 Ankara deployed the Oruc Reis research vessel and an escorting flotilla of warships to disputed waters between Cyprus and the Greek islands of Kastellorizo and Crete, and has since prolonged the mission three times.

Anastasiades said his divided island was facing "a very serious situation", condemning Ankara for what he said were "provocations" as well as "violations of international law" that invade Cyprus's "own exclusive economic zone."

Ankara was "putting the stability and the security of the whole region at risk," he warned.

"Turkey's continued illegal drilling operations ... have led to the intense militarisation of our neighbourhood," the Cypriot leader added in the interview in his presidential palace in Nicosia.

But amid fears of open conflict, Anastasiades stressed that if the United Nations and the international community took the necessary steps "we might avoid any further escalation."

Both Greece and Turkey have staged naval drills in the area to assert their sovereign claims to gas resources and exclusive economic zones, and the European Union on August 28 warned Ankara to pull back or face EU sanctions.

The Cypriot president insisted his country did not want to see sanctions imposed on Turkey.

"It is not our aim, the sanctions. Our aim is to see that through a dialogue we can reach a settlement which would be absolutely compatible with what the international law is saying," he said.

He urged Turkey to agree to either take the matter to the International Court of Justice in The Hague, or to international arbitration.

"They have to realise that they have to abide by the international law, not to interpret the international law according to their own expansionism," Anastasiades said.

Cyprus has been divided since 1974, when Turkey occupied its northern third in response to a coup engineered by the military junta then ruling in Athens that sought to unite the island with Greece.

The breakaway part declared itself the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, but it is only recognised by Ankara. Decades of stop-start talks, mostly under UN auspices, have failed to achieve reconciliation.

The Cypriot leader also praised the "firm stance" taken by France in the current crisis, saying Paris had been "a leading voice in what Europe should do in order to protect the member states from this aggressiveness."

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