Turkey slams Cyprus for gas search, blocks rig with warships

NICOSIA, Cyprus — Turkey's foreign ministry criticized Cyprus again Sunday for a "unilateral" offshore hydrocarbons search after Turkish warships prevented an Italian rig from reaching an area off the east Mediterranean island nation where it was to start exploratory drilling for gas.

Turkish warships on Friday stopped a rig belonging to the Italian energy firm ENI as it headed toward an area southeast of Cyprus.

Turkey, in a statement Sunday, said Greek Cypriots were disregarding the "inalienable rights on natural resources" of Turkish Cypriots and jeopardizing the region's stability.

Turkey's foreign ministry said the Cyprus government was acting like "the sole owner of the island" and warned it would be responsible for any consequences. It also urged foreign companies not to support the Cyprus' government's activities.

Cyprus was split into an internationally-recognized Greek Cypriot south and a breakaway Turkish Cypriot north in 1974 when Turkey invaded following a coup by supporters of union with Greece. Only Turkey recognizes a Turkish Cypriot declaration of independence and keeps more than 35,000 troops in the north.

An ENI spokesman told The Associated Press that the Turkish warships told the rig not to continue because there would be military activities at its destination. The spokesman said the rig would remain where it stopped until the situation is resolved.

Cyprus President Nicos Anastasiades said Sunday that Cypriot authorities are taking actions that will neither lead to an escalation of tensions nor overlook the fact that Turkey was violating international law.

The Cyprus government says a gas search is its sovereign right and that any potential hydrocarbon wealth generated will be equitably shared among all Cypriots after the island is reunified.

Italy's ENI, France's TOTAL and ExxonMobil of the U.S. are among the companies licensed to search for hydrocarbons off Cyprus' southern coast.

Last week, Cyprus announced that ENI and partner TOTAL had discovered a potentially sizeable gas field off its southwestern coast that's close to Egypt's Zohr deposit, which is the largest ever discovered in the Mediterranean.

In earlier drilling, Texas-based Noble Energy discovered a field off Cyprus estimated to hold more than 4 trillion cubic feet of gas.

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Bilginsoy reported from Istanbul.

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