Turkey renews threat against Cyprus offshore gas exploration

ANKARA, Turkey — Turkey's prime minister on Wednesday renewed a threat against the government of Cyprus' efforts to search for offshore gas around the ethnically divided island.

Turkey opposes what it says are Greek Cypriots' "unilateral" efforts to search for gas, saying they infringe on the rights of breakaway Turkish Cypriots to the island's resources.

Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said during a joint news conference with Tufan Erhurman, the prime minister of the self-declared Turkish Cypriot state, that "provocative activities will be met with the appropriate response."

Cyprus was split into a Greek Cypriot south — where it's internationally recognized government is seated — and a Turkish Cypriot north in 1974 when Turkey sent in troops after a coup by supporters of union with Greece. Only Turkey recognizes a Turkish Cypriot declaration of independence.

Last month, Turkish warships prevented a rig from reaching an area southeast of Cyprus where Italian company Eni was scheduled to carry out exploratory drilling. Turkey's blockade came shortly after Cyprus said that Eni had discovered a potentially sizeable gas deposit southeast of the island.

Yildirim's comments were in response to reports that an ExxonMobil vessel was heading toward the Mediterranean, coinciding with exercises in the area involving the U.S. Navy.

ExxonMobil and French company Total are among several firms that Cyprus has licensed to search for gas off its southern coast. ExxonMobil and partner Qatar Petroleum are scheduled to drill southwest of Cyprus in the autumn.

Cyprus Foreign Minister Nikos Christodoulides rebuffed media reports suggesting that ExxonMobil vessels under U.S. Navy escort where on their way to the area.

He said the reports "either don't correspond with reality" or are trying to serve political aims which he didn't specify.

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