Turkey slams southern EU nations on drilling bid off Cyprus

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Turkey Cyprus Gas

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaks to the media after Friday prayers, in Istanbul, Friday, June 7, 2019. Erdogan says his country is determined to protect Turkish Cypriots' rights to gas deposits in the eastern Mediterranean.(Presidential Press Service via AP, Pool)

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Turkey on Saturday criticized southern European Union nations for urging the EU to consider action against Turkey over its bid to drill for gas in waters where Cyprus has exclusive economic rights.

The Turkish Foreign Ministry said in a statement that a declaration issued by the leaders of France, Italy, Greece, Portugal, Spain and Malta shows the EU cannot be a "neutral and trusted actor" to resolve the dispute over divided Cyprus.

The ministry statement called on EU states to acknowledge Turkish Cypriots' equal rights over the island's resources. It added that Turkey, which has sent a drill ship to Cyprus' western coast, is determined to protect those rights.

Cyprus was split in 1974 when Turkey invaded following a coup by supporters of union with Greece.

Cyprus' government hasn't said so publicly but it has issued international arrest warrants against the ship's crew and foreign company officials assisting in the drilling.

Speaking after talks with his Emirati counterpart, Cypriot Foreign Minister Nikos Christodoulides said Turkey's actions were part of its "concerted strategy to exert control in the eastern Mediterranean" over energy issues. He accused the country of putting regional peace and stability at great risk.

Christodoulides said Cyprus expects Turkey to end its "gunboat diplomacy" in order to pave the way for a resumption of stalled talks aimed at reunifying the ethnically divided island nation.