Ankara, Mar 24 (AFP) Turkey has condemned a statement by European Union leaders bitterly critical of Ankara’s policies towards bloc members Cyprus and Greece, raising tensions just days ahead of a key summit.

“The statement that was issued contained unacceptable comments against our country that serve the interests of Greece and the Greek Cypriots,” foreign ministry spokesman Hami Aksoy told reporters yesterday in response to Thursday’s EU statement.

EU President Donald Tusk and European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker are due on Monday to hold talks with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in the Bulgarian city of Varna.

Turkey’s EU Affairs Minister Omer Celik later said Ankara “cannot accept” the statement just before the summit in the Black Sea city.

“We consider the Turkey-EU summit of March 26 in Varna to be an important opportunity to move relations forward. We expect the same positive and constructive approach from the EU,” Celik said on Twitter.

The statement by the 28 EU member states meeting in Brussels called out Turkey for “illegal actions” towards Greece and Cyprus, after Ankara’s arrest of two Greek soldiers and its promise to prevent the internationally-recognised Greek Cypriot government from exploring for oil and gas.

Aksoy complained that the EU had backed Athens and Nicosia simply because they are members, “without considering whether they are right”.

“The EU has lost its objectivity on the Cyprus issue,” he said.

Cyprus has been divided since 1974 when Turkish troops invaded and occupied the northern third of the island in response to a Greek military junta-sponsored coup.

While the Greek-majority Republic of Cyprus is internationally recognised, the breakaway Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus is recognised only by Ankara.

Erdogan has warned foreign energy companies not to “overstep the mark” after Turkey’s warships blocked an Italian drilling vessel of energy giant ENI off Cyprus in February.

The Greek soldiers were arrested on March 2 for entering a military zone in the northern Turkish province of Edirne and have now been remanded in custody ahead of trial.

“The legal process continues. We expect the EU council to avoid statements which represent interference in the judiciary,” Aksoy said.

In a discussion with French President Emmanuel Macron Friday evening, Erdogan asserted the need to “defend the legitimate rights of Turkey and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus towards hydrocarbon sources in the eastern Mediterranean”, according to Turkish presidential sources.

Erdogan also stressed “the importance of reviving the process of accession” to the EU for Turkey.

The summit between Erdogan and the EU chiefs is seen as crucial in setting up the future framework of Turkey’s relationship with the bloc.

Turkey had sought to join the EU for over half a century but membership talks hit the buffers over Ankara’s crackdown imposed in the wake of the 2016 failed coup. (AFP) CK 03240825

This is published unedited from the PTI feed.