Turkey's military launched a major naval exercise on Monday at a time of rising tensions over its plans to explore for gas off the coast of Cyprus. The exercises, featuring 131 vessels, 57 planes and 33 helicopters, began early on Monday, a Turkish defense ministry official confirmed to AFP.
They are due to last until May 25 and take place across the Mediterranean, Aegean and Black seas. It follows Turkey's announcement in May that it would carry out exploratory drilling off Cyprus up to September. The European Union has said that will encroach on Cyprus's exclusive economic zone, while the United States described the move as "highly provocative."
The international community does not recognize the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, proclaimed after troops occupied the top third of the island in 1974 in response to a coup sponsored by the Greek military junta. The discovery of huge gas reserves in the Mediterranean has fueled a race to tap the underwater resources.
Turkey considers the area to be part of its continental shelf and granted exploration licenses to Turkish Petroleum in 2009 and 2012. The internationally recognized Republic of Cyprus, which rules the rest of the island, has signed its own exploration deals with energy giants Eni, Total and ExxonMobil.
Speaking on Sunday, Defense Minister Hulusi Akar insisted Turkey would take all necessary measures to "protect its rights in the Mediterranean and Aegean Seas, and in Cyprus."
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