Athens bristles at new Aegean violations

As the regular pattern of Turkish military violations of Greece’s sea and air borders in the Aegean showed no sign of abating yesterday, Athens hinted that it might reconsider its hearty support for the opening of accession talks between the European Union and Turkey. While insisting that Greece still backs Turkey’s EU prospects, acting government spokesman Evangelos Antonaros added that «up to now, I can see no change in this reality.» While the prospect of Greece using its veto to block the opening of Turkey’s accession negotiations is highly unlikely, it is believed that Athens might respond to increasing military pushiness from Ankara by calling for tougher terms and conditions regarding its eastern neighbor’s EU prospects. Foreign Minister Petros Molyviatis and Defense Minister Spilios Spiliotopoulos met at the Foreign Ministry yesterday and are believed to have discussed the matter of Turkey’s Aegean air space and territorial waters violations, although no details were made public. Meanwhile, in the fifth such incident in the past seven days, a Turkish coast guard patrol boat approached at a close distance, well within Greek waters, the uninhabited Dodecanese islet of Imia – over whose ownership the two countries came very close to fighting in January 1996. The Turkish vessel stayed in the area for about half an hour, ignoring two Greek coast guard and navy vessels that instructed it to go away, and left at about 11 a.m. At the same time, Greek and Turkish fighter pilots were jousting over the central Aegean as Greece’s air force mobilized following breaches of national air space. A total of 17 breaches were recorded, while the intruders included two photo-reconnaissance planes. Eventually, all the Turkish jets were chased off; in six cases following simulated dogfights. Greek fighters have been scrambling to intercept Turkish military aircraft – many of which appear to have been on missions to photograph the Greek islands – on an almost daily basis over the past week. In an unusually brash display on Friday, two Turkish fighters flew in low close to a pair of Greek naval vessels conducting an exercise in a designated firing range off Andros. Brushing aside Greek complaints, Turkey’s Foreign Ministry has described the incidents as no more than «normal training activities.» Yesterday, Antonaros said that Athens «does not accept» that explanation, but added that the government «is observing events in the Aegean with a clear head.» Meanwhile, opposition leader George Papandreou accused the government of having landed itself in a position where it can only choose between upping tension with Turkey or conciliating Ankara.