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Erdogan says Turkey ‘will not back down’ in east Med standoff

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President Tayyip Erdogan said on Saturday Turkey will not back down to threats of sanctions nor to incursions on its claimed territory in the Mediterranean Sea, where it is in a standoff with EU-member Greece over oil and gas exploration rights.

“We will never bow to banditry on our continental shelf. We will not back down against the language of sanctions and threats,” Erdogan said in the northeastern city of Rize.

Tensions between NATO members Greece and Turkey have risen in the past week after Turkey sent the Oruc Reis survey vessel, escorted by warships, to map out possible oil and gas drilling in territory over which both countries claim jurisdiction.

The search for oil and gas in disputed Mediterranean waters has pitted Turkey against Greece and the entire EU bloc. Photo: Yoruk Isik / Reuters.

Athens demanded the withdrawal of the ship after Greek military vessels shadowed the Oruc Reis, with Erdogan responding that he would not “succumb” to any attempts to “steal” the Turkish continental shelf.

The Oruc Reis, which is between Cyprus and the Greek island of Crete, will continue work until August 23, he added.

READ MORE: Turkey flexes military muscle near Kastellorizo as Greece calls the move ‘illegal.’

Relations between Greece and Turkey have long been fraught with tension. Disputes have ranged from boundaries of offshore continental shelves and airspace to the ethnically split island of Cyprus. In 1996, they almost went to war over ownership of uninhabited islets in the Aegean Sea.

European Union foreign ministers met via video conference on Friday and said Turkey’s naval movements would lead to a “heightened risk of dangerous incidents.”

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