European Union chief warns Turkey against 'intimidating' neighbours

WION Web Team Brussels, Belgium Sep 16, 2020, 02.49 PM(IST)

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan Photograph:( Reuters )

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Ursula von der Leyen said Ankara was a key partner doing important work hosting refugees but stressed 'none of this is justification for attempts to intimidate its neighbours'.

European Union chief Ursula von der Leyen on Wednesday warned Turkey against trying to intimidate Greece and Cyprus, as tensions grow over energy reserves in the eastern Mediterranean.

In her annual State of the EU speech, Ursula von der Leyen said Ankara was a key partner doing important work hosting refugees but stressed "none of this is justification for attempts to intimidate its neighbours".

Also see: Now, Turkey stages military exercises in eastern Mediterranean amid tensions with Greece

Cyprus President Nicos Anastasiades said the Mediterranean island is ready to engage in dialogue with Turkey to resolve differences but not under threats.

"Yesterday unfortunately a Turkish NAVTEX to expand illegal drilling by the Yavuz vessel was extended when at the same time a series of initiatives are ongoing that seek an end to Ankara's unlawful actions and de-escalation," he said, after a meeting with EU Council President Charles Michel in Nicosia.

Also see: Turkey versus Greece: A long history of disputes

Anastasiades said Turkey was continuing its provocations in the eastern Mediterranean.

On Tuesday, Turkey extended the operations of its Yavuz energy drill ship in disputed Mediterranean waters off Cyprus until Oct. 12, in a move that could stir tension between the island's Greek Cypriot government and Ankara.

Turkey, Greece and Cyprus have been locked in a row over energy resources and maritime borders in the region, with Ankara infuriating the EU countries by sending research ships with naval escorts to work in contested waters.

There have been fears of conflict erupting and Cyprus is pressing the rest of the EU to impose fresh sanctions on Ankara over the drilling.

"Turkey is and will always be an important neighbour, but while we are close together on the map, the distance between us appears to be growing," von der Leyen told the European Parliament.

"Yes, Turkey is in a troubled neighbourhood. And yes, it is hosting millions of refugees, for which we support them with considerable funding. But none of this is justification for attempts to intimidate its neighbours."

Greece and Cyprus can count on Europe's "full solidarity on protecting their legitimate sovereignty rights", she added.