NEWS

Turkish F-16s fly close to Olympic jet

The war of nerves in Aegean air space escalated yesterday when two Turkish warplanes forced an Olympic Airways passenger jet to take evasive action in the eastern Aegean. Greek officials used unusually harsh language to condemn the incident, warning Ankara that it was jeopardizing its hopes of joining the EU. Flight OA321, a Boeing 717, was heading from Athens to Istanbul with 70 passengers and five crew members when, at 8.48 a.m., 18 miles (29 km) northwest of Psara and at a height of 29,000 feet, its crash avoidance alarm signaled that two planes ahead of it were closer than 10 miles. The Boeing climbed rapidly to avoid the two Turkish F-16s, which had earlier been intercepted by Greek warplanes. «This action by the Turkish military and the establishment violates the regulations and principles of international law and endangers flight safety above the Aegean,» Foreign Ministry spokesman Panayiotis Beglitis said. He added that protests would be made in Ankara, to the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) and other international organizations, stressing the incident was not unprecedented. «This behavior is in complete opposition to the wish of Turkey’s political leadership to behave in accordance with the Copenhagen Criteria on the basis of EU decisions,» Beglitis said. Foreign Minister George Papandreou said: «It is clear that some people want to create tension, to a lesser or greater degree, in Greek-Turkish relations. We will not play their games.» Government spokesman Christos Protopappas was more direct, charging that the Turkish military «is doing this on purpose. The Turkish establishment does not want the country to join Europe and is creating second fronts.» Turkish PM Recep Tayyip Erdogan told the Turkish newspaper Aksam in an interview: «The sooner the procedure regarding (accession to) the European Union moves ahead and becomes reality, the sooner will the Aegean problem be solved.» On Friday, Turkish warplanes carried out 145 violations of Greek air space. Yesterday, at least 12 formations of warplanes violated Greek air space and the Athens FIR.