EU slaps sanctions on Turkey over its ‘illegal’ gas drilling off Cyprus

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European Union foreign ministers have approved initial sanctions against Turkey over its drilling for gas in waters where EU member Cyprus has exclusive economic rights.

The ministers said in a statement on Monday night that in light of Turkey’s “continued and new illegal drilling activities,” they were suspending talks on an air transport agreement and would call on the European Investment Bank to “review” it’s lending to the country.

The EU also cut 145.8 million euros ($164 million) in pre-accession financial funds allocated for 2020.

They also warned that the EU’s executive branch was working on additional “targeted measures” to penalize Turkey, which started negotiations to join the EU in 2005.

Two Turkish vessels escorted by warships are drilling for gas on either end of ethnically divided Cyprus.

The EU previously said the drilling breached Cyprus’ sovereignty and international law.

The EU last month warned Turkey it could face sanctions if it did not cease what the bloc called "illegal" drilling in Cyprus’s exclusive economic zone.

Last week, diplomats began discussing what measures to impose.

It was the discovery of huge gas reserves in the eastern Mediterranean that sparked the dispute between EU member Cyprus and Turkey.

Ankara sent two ships to carry out drilling off the Cypriot coast despite the warnings from the EU.

Cyprus has been divided between the Republic of Cyprus and a northern third under Turkish military control since 1974 when Turkey invaded in response to a coup by a Greek military junta.

The tensions over gas drilling are also likely related to the collapse of peace talks in 2017, experts say.

While negotiations to reunify the island have not restarted, Cyprus has moved to start gas and oil exploration by issuing licenses.

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