ISTANBUL (Reuters) - Turkey called on Sunday for the European Union to end what it said was the bloc’s prejudice against Turkish Cypriots, defending its launch of a fresh round of hydrocarbons drilling off the Mediterranean island.
Turkey began drilling for oil and gas near Cyprus last year despite warnings from the EU, stoking tensions with neighboring members Greece and Cyprus.
In the latest move, Energy Minister Fatih Donmez on Friday told the state-owned Anadolu news agency that Turkey’s Yavuz drilling ship was setting off for Cyprus, prompting cautionary EU comments.
“The EU has remained silent since 2003 to the usurping of our country’s and the Turkish Cypriots’ rights in the eastern Mediterranean,” Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesman Hami Aksoy said in a written statement.
“The European Union must firstly end these policies under the guise of union solidarity, which are far from reality, prejudiced and show double standards.”
Cyprus was divided in a Turkish invasion in 1974 after a brief Greek-inspired coup. Turkey supports a breakaway Turkish Cypriot state in the north of the island.
Responding to the announcement of fresh drilling, EU foreign affairs spokesman Peter Stano said on Saturday that concrete steps were needed to create an environment conducive to dialogue.
“The intention by Turkey to launch further exploration and drilling activities in the wider region goes, regrettably, in the opposite direction,” Stano said in a statement.
Aksoy said the ship Yavuz was heading for the south of Cyprus to an area for which Turkish Cypriot authorities awarded an exploration license to a Turkish company in 2011.
Cyprus’s internationally recognized government discovered offshore gas in 2011 but has been at loggerheads with Turkey over maritime zones around the island, where it has granted licenses to multinational companies for oil and gas research.
Turkey, which does not have diplomatic relations with Cyprus’s government, says that some areas in which Nicosia has operations are either on the Turkish continental shelf or in areas where the breakaway Turkish Cypriot state has rights over any finds.
Reporting by Daren Butler; Editing by David Goodman