Verbal clash after Aegean aerial jousts

Following weeks of increasing tension in the Aegean, with Athens denouncing an increase in Turkish warplane violations of its airspace, the aerial jousting turned to words yesterday, with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan saying it was not his country which was causing tension but Greece. Athens, he said, was sending armed planes next to unarmed ones. Greek Foreign Minister George Papandreou, meanwhile, warned that the mock dogfights being fought in the Aegean could lead to an accident and «a tragedy.» Greek warplanes, Erdogan told Turkey’s Kanal D television, «appear armed next to our planes, and especially the planes that are flying unarmed. If you ask me who is harassing whom – our planes are unarmed and their planes are armed.» Athens, however, says that Turkey is sending planes into its airspace and also violating regulations in the Athens FIR. Papandreou and his Turkish counterpart, Abdullah Gul, discussed the issue in a telephone conversation yesterday. They also discussed the course of EU-mandated reforms in Turkey, developments in the Middle East and the agenda of next week’s EU summit. After briefing President Costis Stephanopoulos earlier, Papandreou spoke of the dangers in the Aegean. «This is truly a dangerous matter,» he said. «An accident could lead to a tragedy, for the (pilots) themselves but also cause much higher tension in our bilateral relations at a time when we are trying to solve major problems such as Cyprus, and contribute to Turkey’s European prospects.» Gul downplayed talk of growing tension. «Our desire is to turn the Aegean into a sea of peace. For this purpose, everyone needs to act carefully. There is no need to unnecessarily escalate incidents,» he told reporters in Ankara. «What we need to do is to show Turkish-Greek cooperation to the entire world… because our interest lies in living in peace and in mutual respect in this area,» he added. Papandreou said Greece had asked Turkey to file flight plans in the Aegean. «If this is done,» he said, «any issues that could cause misunderstanding will be cleared up.»

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