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France backs Cyprus in energy row with Turkey

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France supports Cyprus in an escalating dispute with Turkey determined to drill for energy resources in Cypriot waters, said French Defence Minister Florence Parly on Tuesday.

Parly met Cyprus President Nicos Anastasiades and Cypriot counterpart Savvas Angelides on Tuesday where she reaffirmed France’s solidarity with Cyprus.

After the meeting in Nicosia, Parly told reporters: “It was an opportunity to express our solidarity regarding Cyprus which is under strong pressure. France is a friend of Cyprus…That was our main message.”

She said France’s solidarity is “expressed in many ways”.

“We also express our solidarity regarding, for instance, on what’s going on in the EEZ” – the exclusive economic zone of Cyprus.

Cyprus has condemned Turkey’s new phase of  “illegal drilling activity” within its EEZ and continental shelf as a “provocation”.

Turkey has sent navy-escorted drillships into Cyprus waters, including block 8 where Nicosia has issued an exploration license to energy majors Total of France and Italy’s Eni.

Brussels has warned Turkey that it would impose “targeted and appropriate” sanctions if it did not stop its “illegal activities”.

Parly said she would visit the French aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle and its battle group sailing off Cyprus to conduct airstrikes against Islamic State group targets in the Middle East.

“We have strong bilateral cooperation with Cyprus. Cyprus often hosts our navy in its ports, and we are very grateful for that.”

Earlier this month the Cyprus Defence Ministry confirmed it has ordered French surface-to-air Mistral missiles as well as Exocet anti-ship missiles in a €240 mln arms deal.

France and Cyprus have been cultivating closer military ties over the past three years.

Cypriot deputy government spokesperson Panayiotis Sentonas said the meeting between the president and Parly discussed “ways of strengthening bilateral cooperation, particularly in the defence sector”.

The region’s rich natural gas deposits have triggered a race between Turkey and Cyprus, which also plans to ramp up its exploratory activities in the eastern Mediterranean.

The island has been divided between the internationally recognised Republic of Cyprus and the northern third under Turkish control since 1974 after Ankara’s troops occupied the area in response to a coup sponsored by the Greek military junta.