Cyprus hails EU support against Turkey on oil, gas search


Nicosia (AFP)

Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades hailed as "unprecedented" Tuesday the European Union's condemnation of Turkey for blocking his government's search for offshore oil and gas.

The statement from EU leaders on Thursday came after Turkish warships blocked an Italian drillship for weeks from exploring for gas in part of the island's Exclusive Economic Zone.

"For the first time, there is an unprecedented strong condemnation of Turkey?s continuing illegal activity in the eastern Mediterranean, which of course includes the Exclusive Economic Zone of Cyprus," Anastasiades told an oil and gas forum.

"I would like to express my satisfaction with the strong expression of solidarity by the EU," he added.

Anastasiades accused Turkey of "gun-boat diplomacy" for "physically obstructing Italian energy firm ENI from reaching its planned drilling area in exploration Block 3 of our Exclusive Economic Zone?.

The block is one of seven claimed by the breakaway Turkish Republic of North Cyprus in the absence of a deal to end the island's four-decade division.

Turkey back the Turkish Cypriot claim and also disputes part of other blocks on its own account saying they form part of its own continental shelf.

But Anastasiades, whose government is internationally recognised and a member of the EU, argued that the real aim of Turkey was to control energy supply routes in the region.

"Turkey's actions are aimed at achieving the country's long-term goal of becoming an exclusive energy supply hub for the European Union... to control the natural gas supply from the eastern Mediterranean to Europe.?

He said Turkey?s argument about protecting the rights of Turkish Cypriots were "unfounded".

"We have repeatedly and publicly stated that the natural resources of the Republic of Cyprus belong to all Cypriots -- Greek and Turkish Cypriots alike," he said.

Cyprus expects more exploratory drills, as US giant ExxonMobil with Qatar Petroleum plan two drills in the second half of this year.

The standoff over oil and gas exploration risks undermining efforts to relaunch reunification efforts after the collapse of a UN-backed peace conference last year.

Cyprus has been divided since 1974 when Turkish troops occupied its northern third in response to a coup in Nicosia backed by the military junta then ruling Greece.

Repeated rounds of talks on reunifying the island as a bizonal, bicommunal federation have all failed.