Cyprus’ president has slammed Turkey for an “unprecedented escalation of illegal action” in the eastern Mediterranean, equating Ankara’s bid to drill for gas in waters where the Mediterranean island nation has exclusive economic rights as being tantamount to a new invasion.

At an informal meeting on Thursday of European Union leaders in the central Romanian town of Sibiu, Nicos Anastasiades sought support to counter Turkey’s actions.

“This is by far the most serious violation of Cyprus’ sovereign rights in a very long time and we’re now facing an unprecedented escalation of Turkey’s illegal actions in the eastern Mediterranean,” Anastasiades told other leaders from a meeting of the center-right grouping in the European Parliament — the European People’s Party — ahead of Thursday’s summit.

Cyprus' defense Minister Savvas Angelides, second left, talks with his Greek counterpart Evaggelos Apostolakis after their meeting with Cyprus' president Nicos Anastasiades at the presidential palace in Nicosia, Cyprus, Wednesday, May 8, 2019. (AP Photo/Philipps Christou)
Cyprus’ defense Minister Savvas Angelides, second left, talks with his Greek counterpart Evaggelos Apostolakis after their meeting with Cyprus’ president Nicos Anastasiades at the presidential palace in Nicosia, Cyprus, Wednesday, May 8, 2019. (AP Photo/Philipps Christou)

“Essentially, these actions are tantamount to a new invasion of Cyprus by Turkey after the tragic events of 1974.”

Turkey invaded Cyprus in 1974 and occupied its northern third following an abortive coup by supporters of uniting the island with Greece. The Turkish Cypriot state Ankara declared in the north is recognized only by Turkey, which in turn does not recognize Cyprus. Turkey claims part of Cyprus’ exclusive economic zone falls within its own continental shelf.

Cypriot government spokesman Prodromos Prodromou said Anastasiades’ EPP counterparts “condemn” Turkey’s actions and have called on Turkey to “abandon these illegal activities.”

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, left, is welcomed by Romanian President Klaus Werner Ioannis as he arrives for an EU summit in Sibiu, Romania, Thursday, May 9, 2019. (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda)
Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, left, is welcomed by Romanian President Klaus Werner Ioannis as he arrives for an EU summit in Sibiu, Romania, Thursday, May 9, 2019. (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda)

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, speaking as he arrived for the summit, said he would also bring up the matter, which was “a European issue and not just a Cypriot one,” adding that “international law cannot be violated.”

Cypriot authorities say the Turkish drillship Fatih is anchored about 68 kilometers (42 miles) off the southwestern Cypriot resort town of Paphos, escorted by support ships and a Turkish navy frigate, but hasn’t started drilling yet.

Energy companies ExxonMobil, Noble Energy, France’s Total and Italy’s Eni are licensed to drill off Cyprus’ southern coast. Sizeable natural gas deposits have so far been found in three offshore areas. Cyprus says any future gas proceeds will be shared equitably with Turkish Cypriots after a deal is reached to reunify the island.

Cypriot officials also said the U.S., Russia, France, Greece and Egypt have condemned Turkey’s actions. EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini last week urged Turkey to respect Cyprus’ sovereign rights and refrain from any illegal action to which the bloc “will respond appropriately in full solidarity” with Cyprus.

Anastasiades said the EU’s strict messages to Turkey were “made to deaf ears” and that even Mogherini’s recent statement was met with “sarcasm” from Turkey’s foreign minister.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Tuesday his country was acting in accordance with international law to protect its rights and those of breakaway Turkish Cypriots to offshore hydrocarbon reserves.

Cavusoglu said Turkey will dispatch a second drillship to the area. “We will continue to take all kinds of necessary steps without hesitation,” he said.

Speaking in Sibiu, Anastasiades said the time had come “for collective action against these provocative actions, beyond the usual messages which have proven ineffective,” and said the drilling attempt “may further destabilize a tumultuous region.”

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