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Cyprus plays down new Turkish threats over drilling

The government on Thursday sought to play down Turkey’s latest warning that it will not stand idly by while Greek Cypriots press ahead with gas exploration off the island’s southern coast.

It was responding to remarks by Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, who denounced Nicosia’s “unilateral actions” – a reference to scheduled gas drilling offshore Cyprus this summer.

“The Turkish Cypriots have rights as well. We shall take steps to safeguard these rights. Previously, we took legal steps, noting our official position.

“From now on we have to show that we will not accept unilateral acts,” Cavusoglu said.

He added that whereas Ankara is committed to a political settlement on Cyprus, he did “not see the same sincerity on the part of the Greek Cypriots, in the midst of their election campaign.”

Turkey claims a part of Cyprus’ Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) as belonging to its continental shelf. In addition, Ankara maintains that exploiting the island’s resources can only take place after a comprehensive settlement, where both communities can share in the wealth.

Earlier, Turkey’s energy minister Berat Albayrak had said his country planned to carry out deep-sea drilling and seismic surveys for oil and natural gas in the Eastern Mediterranean as early as next week.

In the meantime, authorities in the north of the island have issued three consecutive Notices to Airmen (NOTAM) reserving the entire northern side of the island, including a large section of the Nicosia Flight Information Region and extending to the Greek island of Kastelorizo.

Turkish military jets will be holding live-ammo wargames in the reserved areas from Monday until April 26.

Responding to the Turkish warnings, government spokesman Nicos Christodoulides said Nicosia remained unfazed.

“We do not panic, but deal with these statements calmly. The best response [to threats] is the interest shown by energy giants in the Cyprus EEZ,” he said.

The spokesman attributed Ankara’s tough-talking to the upcoming constitutional referendum in Turkey, and Turkish president Tayyip Erdogan’s bid to garner support from the nationalist crowd.

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