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France to bolster Mediterranean military presence over Turkish gas exploration in disputed waters

This handout photograph shows Turkish seismic research vessel Oruc Reis in the Mediterranean Sea, August 12, 2020.
This handout photograph shows Turkish seismic research vessel Oruc Reis in the Mediterranean Sea, August 12, 2020. © Turkish Defence Ministry
8 min

France will increase its military presence in the eastern Mediterranean, President Emmanuel Macron said on Wednesday, calling on Turkey to halt oil and gas exploration in disputed waters, an act that has heightened tensions with Greece.

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The French leader voiced concern over "unilateral" exploration by Turkey in a call with Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, Macron's office said in a statement. It added that prospecting should "cease in order to allow a peaceful dialogue" between the neighbouring NATO members.

The standoff deepened this week with the arrival of Turkish seismic research vessel Oruc Reis in a disputed area of the Mediterranean, accompanied by warships.

The French armed forces ministry said on Thursday that France will send two Rafale fighter jets and the naval frigate 'Lafayette' to the eastern Mediterranean as part of plans to increase its military presence in the region.

Turkey 'demonstrating they mean business' in dispute with Greece
03:30

The country will "temporarily reinforce" its military presence, Macron's statement said, to "monitor the situation in the region and mark its determination to uphold international law."

Greece's prime minister warmly thanked France on Thursday for its pledge to boost its military presence in the eastern Mediterranean.

Mitsotakis tweeted that Macron is “a true friend of Greece and also a fervent protector of European values and international law.”

Turkey and Greece are at loggerheads over competing claims to natural gas reserves, brought into sharp focus by the attempts of EU member Cyprus to explore for gas in the eastern Mediterranean over Turkey's strong objections.

Macron called last month for EU sanctions against Turkey for what he described as "violations" of Greek and Cypriot sovereignty over their territorial waters. Relations between Paris and Ankara have also frayed over the conflict in Libya. 

Erdogan spoke by phone on Thursday with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and EU Council President Charles Michel to discuss the situation in the eastern Mediterranean.

"President Erdogan reiterated his commitment to defend Turkey's rights against attempts to disregard them," Erdogan's office said of the call with Michel, one day before EU foreign ministers are due to discuss the latest developments.

Later on Wednesday, Erdogan said that he would discuss the issue with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and President of the European Council Charles Michel, in an attempt to defuse tensions.

Erdogan told a meeting of his ruling party's provincial leaders that he wanted to resolve the emerging crisis "through dialogue and negotiations", accusing Athens of harbouring "ill-will".

"We have always sought a solution to problems with Greece at the table. We don't want to infringe on others' rights but we won't allow another country to infringe [upon] ours," he said.

This comes after tensions flared between Greece and Turkey in late July after Erdogan provoked worldwide outrage with his controversial move to transform Istanbul's Hagia Sophia, formerly a Christian church and later a museum, into a mosque.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP and REUTERS)

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