Category Archives: Middle East – Turkey

Turkey’s Erdogan accuses US of being supportive of terrorism in Iraq.

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The US State Department on Sunday it “deplores the death of Turkish citizens” but was waiting for further confirmation that Ankara’s account of the 13 men’s death was true.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Monday accused the United States of siding with “terrorists” after blaming outlawed Kurdish militants of executing 13 Turks in northern Iraq.

Erdogan’s comments came a day after Ankara said Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) rebels had killed 13 captives — most of them Turkish soldiers and police officers — they had allegedly abducted in southeast Turkey and kept in an Iraqi cave.

The PKK has been waging an insurgency against the Turkish state since 1984 that is believed to have left tens of thousands dead.

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The United States and Turkey’s other Western allies recognise the PKK as a terror group.

But Washington has supported another Kurdish militia in Syria that Turkey sees as an offshoot of the PKK.

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Turkey this month launched a military operation against rear PKK bases in northern Iraq that Erdogan said on Monday was designed in part to free the 13 hostages.

“The statement made by the United States is a farce,” Erdogan said in his first public comments on the incident.

“You said you did not support terrorists, when in fact you are on their side and behind them,” Erdogan said in televised remarks.

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The US State Department on Sunday it “deplores the death of Turkish citizens” but was waiting for further confirmation that Ankara’s account of the 13 men’s death was true.

The PKK said the 13 died when Turkish forces bombed the cave where the men were being kept.

“If reports of the death of Turkish civilians at the hands of the PKK, a designated terrorist organisation, are confirmed, we condemn this action in the strongest possible terms,” the State Department said in a statement.

Erdogan said Turkey’s NATO allies had to pick sides.

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“After this, there are two options. Either act with Turkey with no ifs or buts, without questioning, or they will be a partner to every murder and bloodshed,” he said.

“The terrorist organisation on our doorstep, on our borders, is killing innocents.”

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#Newsworthy

Turkish sailors ‘kidnapped’ off Nigeria return home.

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Pirate attacks on ships worldwide jumped 20 percent last year driven by a record spate of kidnappings off West Africa, the International Maritime Bureau said last month.

Fifteen Turkish sailors who were kidnapped on a cargo ship off the coast of Nigeria last month arrived back in Istanbul on Sunday, where they were welcomed by their families, state news agency Anadolu reported.

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The ship, the Mozart, had been en route from Nigeria’s economic capital Lagos to Cape Town in South Africa when it was boarded on January 23.

The unidentified armed men killed an Azerbaijani sailor and wounded several of the Liberian-flagged vessel’s crew.

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The ship then sailed on to Gabon before contact was officially lost.

Turkey already said Friday that the sailors had been released.

They arrived at Istanbul’s international airport on Sunday to be greeted with applause in the presence of their relatives and Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, Anadolu reported.

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The ship’s captain, Mustafa Kaya, told waiting media that the crew had been held in a forest.

“We suffered no physical abuse, but psychologically, it was very difficult,” he said.

Neither the government nor the ship’s owners have released any information about the sailors’ release, but their kidnappers had made a ransom demand.

Pirate attacks on ships worldwide jumped 20 percent last year driven by a record spate of kidnappings off West Africa, the International Maritime Bureau said last month.

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Out of 135 sailors abducted globally last year, 130 were recorded in the Gulf of Guinea — the highest-ever number of crew members kidnapped in the area stretching thousands of kilometres (miles) from Senegal to Angola.

Ten sailors from the Turkish navy also kidnapped off the coast Nigeria were freed in August 2019.

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#Newsworthy

Turkish politics ‘choked’ amid Erdogan’s call to alter constitution.

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Under Turkish law, changes require 400 lawmakers to pass without a need for a referendum.

Four years after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan assumed sweeping powers, he has wrong-footed his opponents once again by calling for a new constitution, sparking accusations of trying to set up a diversion from the country’s woes.

Taking seemingly everyone off guard, Erdogan mentioned early last week during one of his near-daily speeches that “it may be time for Turkey to reopen the debate about a new constitution”.

The timing aroused immediate suspicions over the intentions of a man who has been at the apex of Turkish political life since 2003, first as prime minister and since 2014 as president.

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The 66-year-old Turkish leader is facing a sudden burst of student protests, an economy that was under strain even before the coronavirus pandemic struck last year, and polls showing a melting support base.

The current constitution was changed in a controversial 2017 referendum which created an executive presidency.

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It went into force barely a year later when Erdogan won re-election, with the amendments allowing him to consolidate his power.

Since then the only politicians demanding constitutional changes have been members of the opposition, all calling for a return to the previous parliamentary democracy.

Few think this is what Erdogan has in mind.

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“This is only an attempt to change the agenda so that the economy, the pandemic, farmers’ concerns, traders’ worries and rights violations aren’t discussed,” Idris Sahin, deputy chairman of the opposition Democracy and Progress Party (DEVA), told AFP.

DEVA was launched last year by Ali Babacan, a former Erdogan ally who won the West’s trust as economy minister.

Turkish President and leader of the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaks during his party’s group meeting at the Turkish Grand National Assembly in Ankara on February 10, 2021. (Photo by Adem ALTAN / AFP)

‘Not sincere’
Sahin dismissed Erdogan’s move as “absolutely not a sincere idea”, describing it instead as a belated response to opposition parties’ attempts to dilute the executive presidency.

He surmised that the president’s team realised that “for the first time, they weren’t setting the agenda. They lagged behind the opposition.”

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Last month, Babacan and Kemal Kilicdaroglu of the main opposition CHP party agreed to work together on a “strengthened parliamentary system”.

Aware of these efforts weeks before the president took his stand, Erdogan’s coalition partner Devlet Bahceli of the ultranationalist MHP branded attempts to tinker with the executive presidency as “proof of desperation”.

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Bahceli also suggested changing the law on political parties, further fuelling speculation that he wields outsized power despite being Erdogan’s junior partner, and was a major instigator behind the president’s call for a new basic law.

The MHP leader soon also backed the move.

But, like DEVA’s Sahin, a Western diplomat was sceptical that Erdogan is angling for actual changes.

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“In the short term, the main objective seems to be to divide the opposition by forcing parties to take a stance on the constitutional debate which will probably be framed along the lines of ‘with or against Turkey’,” the diplomat told AFP.

‘Not serious’
Some think that if Erdogan does have anything specific in mind, it could be about scrapping an electoral rule that requires a presidential candidate to garner more than 50 percent of the vote to avoid a second round.

“At this stage, this is not a serious or a well-developed proposal,” said Galip Dalay of the Robert Bosch Academy and Chatham House.

But “if he goes for the change of constitution, his main goal would be to change the requirement of the election of the president,” Dalay said

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Aysuda Kolemen of Berlin’s Bard College agreed, projecting a scenario in which the opposition would have to rally behind a single candidate to challenge Erdogan in the next presidential vote, expected in 2023.

“If they can’t, Erdogan can win again,” Kolemen said.

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But nothing is certain. Last week, the independent newspaper Cumhuriyet said the 50 percent-plus-one threshold would remain unchanged.

Tough sell
Either way, Erdogan faces an uphill struggle to get any new constitution approved.

Under Turkish law, changes require 400 lawmakers to pass without a need for a referendum. With 360 votes, a proposal can be put to the people.

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Since Erdogan’s AKP party and the MHP have only 337 votes, they would need to work with at least some of the opposition to get changes through.

Another question is whether the public would support a new basic law.

“Selling a new constitution just four years after a profound overhaul is not going to be easy,” the Western diplomat said.

DEVA Party’s Sahin voiced similar thoughts.

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“The changes are so new. Won’t people ask, do you want a constitution for you or for society?” Sahin asked.

“Unfortunately recent constitutional changes turned into something done for one man’s welfare and future. So it’s not possible for the public to support it.”

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#Newsworthy

Shocking: Turkish hospital inferno took lives of 9 COVID-19 patient

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All the victims were patients who had been hospitalised with the coronavirus. Other patients affected by the fire were transferred to other hospitals.

At least nine coronavirus patients died on Saturday after an oxygen tank explosion triggered a fire at a hospital in southeastern Turkey, the health ministry said.

The blaze in an intensive care ward of the hospital in Gaziantep broke out when a tank on an artificial respirator exploded.

“We are profoundly saddened by this tragedy,” Turkish Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said before a planned visit to the hospital.

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Turkey has recorded more than 1.9 million cases of Covid-19 and more than 17,600 deaths since the pandemic began a year ago.

Faced with a surge in cases, Turkey strengthened restrictions put in place at the end of November with a total curfew during the weekend and partial one during the week.

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#Newsworthy

Turkey blows hot over Iran’s ‘abusive language’ against Erdogan

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Iran is home to a large Azeri community, mainly in northwestern provinces next to Azerbaijan and Armenia, where the Aras river defines the border.

Turkey on Saturday rebuked Tehran for “offensive language” aimed at President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in connection with a controversial poem that might suggest Iran’s northwestern provinces belong to Azerbaijan.

Iran and Turkey have increased economic cooperation over the past decade but remain rivals in several parts of the Middle East and Central Asia.

On Thursday, Erdogan paid a visit to staunch ally Azerbaijan for a military parade marking Baku’s victory over Armenia after six weeks of fighting over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region.

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During his visit, Erdogan recited a poem that Tehran said could fan separatism among Iran’s Azeri minority.

The next day, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif wrote on Twitter that “President Erdogan was not informed that what he ill-recited in Baku refers to the forcible separation of areas north of Aras from Iranian motherland”.

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According to Iran’s news agency known to NoRM, the poem is “one of the separatist symbols of pan-turkism”.

ISNA said the verses point to Aras and “complains of the distance between Azeri-speaking people on the two sides of the river”.

Iranian authorities summoned Turkey’s ambassador to Tehran to complain about Erdogan’s “interventionist and unacceptable remarks”.

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In return, Turkey summoned Iran’s ambassador to Ankara over the “baseless” claims.

Turkey doubled down on Saturday, with a statement by presidential communications director Fahrettin Altun that said: “We condemn the use of offensive language towards our president and our country over the recitation of a poem, whose meaning has been deliberately taken out of context.”

Altun said the poem “passionately reflects the emotional experience of an aggrieved people due to Armenia’s occupation of Azerbaijani lands”.

“It does not include any references to Iran. Nor is that country implied in any way, shape or form.”

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Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told his Iranian counterpart in a phone call Saturday that “baseless and heavy statements made by Iran and aimed at our president are unacceptable”, a Turkish foreign ministry source said.

At difficult times of Iran, Turkey stood in solidarity with Iran when others turned their back against Tehran, and this increased the extent of Ankara’s diappointment, Cavusoglu told Zarif, according to the source.

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#Newsworthy

Turkey: Berat, Erdogan’s son-in-law resigns as deputy head of sovereign wealth fund

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Yet Albayrak still held on to his post as deputy head of the sovereign wealth fund, which was created in 2016 and now manages state assets officially valued at $22.6 billion.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s son-in-law quit as the deputy head of Turkey’s huge sovereign wealth fund, completing a fall from grace that began with his surprise resignation as finance minister.

Berat Albayrak had been viewed as Turkey’s second most powerful figure until his chaotic departure from the government at the start of the month.

Married to the Turkish leader’s elder daughter, the 42-year-old quit as finance minister in a cryptic November 8 message on Instagram that cited health reasons.

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His resignation from the helm of the Turkish economy was ignored by state media for more than 24 hours, until it was formally accepted by Erdogan the next night.

Albayrak’s two-year tenure as economy chief saw the lira lose 40 percent of its value against the dollar and the central bank burn though most of its reserves in trying to defend the currency.

Berat Albayrak speaks during a presentation to announce his economic policy in Istanbul, Turkey August 10, 2018. REUTERS/MURAD SEZER/FILE PHOTO

His departure was linked to Erdogan’s appointment of a new market-friendly central banker whom Albayrak had strongly opposed.

Naci Agbal, the new central bank governor, sharply raised the main interest rate at his first policy meeting last week, helping the lira halt its slide.

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Erdogan’s office said little about Albayrak’s departure, noting in a one-sentence statement that he “left the board of the sovereign wealth fund of Turkey after asking to take leave”.

He was appointed as its deputy head in 2018, the same year Erdogan became its official chief.

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#Newsworthy

Just in: End provocation against Greece – Germany, U.S asks Turkey.

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“Coercion, threats, intimidation and military activity will not resolve tensions in the Eastern Mediterranean.”

Turkey’s two key Western allies, the United States and Germany, on Tuesday urged it to pull back a ship it has returned to waters contested with Greece, with Washington denouncing the “calculated provocation.”

The Turkish navy said Sunday that the Oruc Reis exploration vessel was heading back to energy-rich eastern Mediterranean waters between the Greek island of Crete and Cyprus, weeks after it left amid an agreement for talks.

In a strongly-worded statement, the State Department said the US “deplores” the decision by Turkey and noted that Greece “asserts jurisdiction” over areas where the ship plans to operate through October 22.

“We urge Turkey to end this calculated provocation and immediately begin exploratory talks with Greece,” State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said in a statement.

“Turkey’s announcement unilaterally raises tensions in the region and deliberately complicates the resumption of crucial exploratory talks between our NATO allies Greece and Turkey,” she said.

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Turkey last sent the ship into contested waters in August backed by warships, alarming both Greece and Cyprus, which is partially occupied by Ankara.

Greece responded by staging military exercises but tensions eased when both Ankara and Athens agreed to talk through the crisis.

Greece said Tuesday there could be no diplomatic solution until the ship is withdrawn.

Greece “will not sit at the table for exploratory talks while the Oruc Reis and escorting warships are out there,” Minister of State George Gerapetritis told Parapolitika radio.

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He said Athens would “emphatically” raise the dispute at a European council meeting starting Thursday.

Germany steps up tone
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan last month said that the withdrawal of the ship was a chance to give diplomacy a chance.

But Turkish officials also insisted the ship was only undergoing planned maintenance and would return to the eastern Mediterranean to continue its work.

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, speaking ahead of a trip to Cyprus and Greece, said that Turkey “must end the cycle of detente and provocation if the government is interested in talks.”

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“If there should be renewed Turkish gas exploration in the more controversial sea areas in the eastern Mediterranean, this would be a serious setback for efforts to de-escalate,” Maas said.

While France has staunchly backed Greece throughout the standoff with Turkey, Germany had irked many Greeks in August with what they perceived as a low-key response by Europe’s largest economic power.

Erdogan has a cordial relationship with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who has worked with Turkey both on stemming the flow of Syrian and other refugees into Europe and over the crisis in Libya.

Erdogan has also cultivated close ties with US President Donald Trump, who said of the Turkish leader in an interview for investigative journalist Bob Woodward’s latest book: “The tougher and meaner they are, the better I get along with them.”

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The US relationship has nonetheless been expanding quickly with Athens, in part over its growing embrace of US ally Israel.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo last month visited Greece in a show of support in which he voiced hope over then easing tensions with Turkey.

Under Erdogan, Turkey has been newly assertive on multiple fronts, not just against historic rival Greece.

Erdogan in recent weeks has encouraged Azerbaijan in its campaign to end “occupation” of the Nagorno-Karabakh area by Armenia as the neighbours engage in their most serious fighting since 1994.


#Newsworthy…

Armenia must return foreign mercenaries – Turkey Gov’t says.

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Turkey said Armenia must stop its occupation of Azerbaijan’s lands and send back the “mercenaries and terrorists” it brought from abroad for stability in the Nagorno-Karabakh region, where Armenian and Azeri forces have clashed.

“Armenia must immediately halt its attacks, send back the mercenaries and terrorists it brought from abroad and withdraw from the Azerbaijan lands,” said Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar, adding a ceasefire and peace are needed.


#Newsworthy…

Turkey: East Mediterranean gas exploration stressed.

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Turkish navy’s advisory says the Oruc Reis will continue working until September 12, a move Greece calls ‘illegal’.


Turkey says its Oruc Reis exploration vessel will carry out seismic surveys in a disputed area of the eastern Mediterranean until September 12, provoking an angry response from neighbouring Greece.

The two NATO allies vehemently disagree over claims to hydrocarbon resources in the area based on conflicting views on the extent of their continental shelves in waters dotted with mostly Greek islands.

Both sides have held military exercises in the eastern Mediterranean, highlighting the potential for the dispute to escalate.

The Turkish navy announced the extension of the Oruc Reis’s mission late on Monday – it was previously scheduled to end on September 1.

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The advisory came after the European Union’s executive earlier on Monday called for dialogue with Turkey and demanded that Ankara refrain from unilateral steps that stoke tensions in the eastern Mediterranean.

Greece’s foreign ministry called the advisory illegal and urged Turkey to ease tensions and work for stability in the region.

“Turkey continues to ignore calls for dialogue and to escalate its provocations,” the ministry said in a statement. “Greece won’t be blackmailed.”

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Greece will keep seeking maritime deals with its neighbours in the region, based on international law and the law of the Sea, the ministry added.

Last week, Greece ratified an accord on maritime boundaries with Egypt, following a similar agreement signed between Turkey and Libya.

Turkey’s latest advisory referred to a specific exploration area. On Saturday, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said the Oruc Reis would continue working for the next 90 days as it moved gradually closer to the Turkish province of Antalya.

Seismic surveys are part of preparatory work for potential hydrocarbon exploration.

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Turkey has also been exploring for hydrocarbon resources in the Black Sea and discovered a 320-billion cubic metre (11.3 trillion cubic feet) gas field.

Separately, Turkey also said it will hold a military exercise off northwest Cyprus until September 11.

Turkey and Greece have held military exercises in the east Mediterranean, highlighting the potential for dispute over extent of their continental shelves to escalate [Greek Defence Ministry/AP]

Last week, the EU said it was preparing to impose sanctions on Turkey – including tough economic measures – unless progress is made in reducing soaring tensions with Greece and Cyprus in the eastern Mediterranean.

Turkish Vice President Fuat Oktay slammed the EU threat as “hypocritical”.


#Newsworthy…

Turkey blasts European Union on warning over East Mediterranean.

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Turkish VP refutes EU threat for sanctions as Turkish military gets ready to carry out military exercises off Cyprus.


Turkish Vice President Fuat Oktay has slammed a recent threat by the European Union to slap Ankara with sanctions as “hypocritical” as his country prepares to carry out a military drill off the coast of Cyprus amid tensions in the eastern Mediterranean.

Oktay’s comments on Saturday came a day after Josep Borrell, the EU’s foreign policy chief, said the bloc was preparing to impose sanctions on Turkey – including tough economic measures – unless progress is made in reducing soaring tensions with Greece and Cyprus in the eastern Mediterranean.

“It is hypocritical for the European Union to call for dialogue and, simultaneously, make other plans regarding Turkey’s activities within our continental shelf in the Eastern Mediterranean,” Oktay said on Twitter.

“We are proficient in the language of peace and diplomacy, but do not hesitate to do the necessary thing when it comes to defending Turkey’s rights and interests. France and Greece know that better than anyone.”

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The long-running dispute between Turkey and Greece, both NATO members, flared after both agreed to rival accords on their maritime boundaries with Libya and Egypt, and Turkey sent a survey vessel into contested waters this month.

The EU’s measures, meant to limit Turkey’s ability to explore for natural gas in contested waters, could include individuals, ships or the use of European ports, Borrell said.

“We can go to measures related to sectoral activities … where the Turkish economy is related to the European economy,” Borrell told a news conference, referring to possible sanctions.

The EU would focus on everything related to “activities we consider illegal”, he said.

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Military exercise
On Friday, Turkey said it will hold military drills off northwest Cyprus in the next two weeks.

The Turkish military issued an advisory to mariners, known as a Navtex, saying it would be holding a “gunnery exercise” from Saturday until September 11.

Tensions escalated this month after Ankara dispatched the Oruc Reis seismic survey vessel in a disputed area following the pact between Athens and Cairo [Yoruk Isik/Reuters]

Greece and Turkey have both held military exercises in the eastern Mediterranean, highlighting the potential for the dispute over the extent of their continental shelves to escalate into a confrontation.

Two weeks ago, Greek and Turkish frigates shadowing Turkey’s Oruc Reis oil and gas survey vessel collided, and Turkey’s Ministry of National Defense said Turkish F-16 jets on Thursday prevented six Greek F-16s from entering an area where Turkey was operating.

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Greece and Turkey are at odds over the rights to potential hydrocarbon resources in the eastern Mediterranean, based on conflicting claims about the extent of their continental shelves.

Tensions escalated this month after Ankara dispatched the Oruc Reis seismic survey vessel in a disputed area following the pact between Athens and Cairo.

The agreement is seen as a response to a Turkish-Libyan accord signed in 2019 allowing Turkey access to areas in the region where large hydrocarbon deposits have been discovered.

Turkey is a formal candidate to join the EU, but its talks with the bloc have been in a deadlock for several years now.


#Newsworthy…