NEWS

Bagis warns against gas exploration

Turkey has issued its starkest warning to date regarding Nicosia?s plans to drill for oil and gas off the Mediterranean island?s southern coast, as a senior official indicated that Ankara might resort to military action.

?It is for this that countries have warships. It is for this that we have equipment and we train our navies,? Turkey?s European Affairs Minister Egemen Bagis was quoted as saying in Zaman daily Friday.

The high-ranking official was responding to comments that Ankara sent warships to the area after Cyprus started to map energy reserves inside its exclusive economic zone in 2008.

Turkey objects to the drilling in Block 12, an area that is said to have significant gas and possibly oil deposits, arguing that Turkish Cypriots should not be left out of any exploitation of natural resources. ?Turkey will exercise its rights under international law. Everyone knows Turkey is earnest,? Bagis said.

Cyprus, which has licensed Houston-based firm Noble Energy to begin work in Cypriot waters in late September, has reacted to previous warnings by lodging official complaints with the United Nations and the European Union.

Washington and Moscow have both suggested that Nicosia should proceed with its gas exploration plans, though no clear backing has been expressed by Brussels.

Cypriot Foreign Minister Erato Markoulli is today expected to brief her EU peers about the issue on the fringes of a foreign ministers meeting in Poland.

Bagis?s remarks came as tension mounted in the Mediterranean following Ankara?s expulsion of Israel?s ambassador yesterday.

Some analysts claim that Greece has sought to capitalize on worsening ties between Ankara and Tel Aviv.