ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — The European Union's approval of an initial set of sanctions against Turkey won't deter the country from pressing ahead with efforts to drill for hydrocarbons off the island of Cyprus, Turkey's Foreign Ministry said Tuesday.
EU foreign ministers on Monday approved sanctions against Turkey over its drilling for gas in waters where EU member Cyprus has exclusive economic rights. They said were suspending talks on an air transport agreement and would call on the European Investment Bank to "review" its lending to the country.
They also backed a proposal by the EU's executive branch to reduce financial assistance to Turkey for next year. The ministers warned that additional "targeted measures" were being worked on to penalize Turkey, which started negotiations to join the EU in 2005.
In a statement issued Tuesday, the Foreign Ministry said the EU made no mention of Turkish Cypriots and acted as though they "do not exist," and accused the 28-nation bloc of "prejudice and bias."
"The decisions taken by the EU Foreign Affairs Council during a meeting yesterday will in no way affect our country's determination in continuing hydrocarbon activities in the East Mediterranean," the ministry said.
It added that Turkey was determined to protect its rights and the rights of Turkish Cypriots.
Two Turkish vessels escorted by warships are drilling for gas on either end of ethnically divided Cyprus. Turkey insists that it has rights over certain offshore zones and that Turkish Cypriots have rights over others.
Cyprus was split along ethnic lines in 1974 when Turkey invaded in the wake of a coup by supporters of union with Greece. A Turkish Cypriot declaration of independence is recognized only by Turkey, which keeps more than 35,000 troops in the breakaway north. Cyprus joined the EU in 2004, but only the internationally recognized south enjoys full membership benefits.
Cypriot officials accuse Turkey of using the minority Turkish Cypriots in order to pursue its goal of exerting control over the eastern Mediterranean region.
The Cypriot government says it will take legal action against any oil and gas companies supporting Turkish vessels in any repeat attempt to drill for gas. Cyprus has already issued around 20 international arrest warrants against three international companies assisting one of the two Turkish vessels now drilling 42 miles (68 kilometers) off the island's west coast.