January 7, 2009 / 4:06 PM / 10 years ago

Greece protests Turkish airspace violations

ATHENS, Jan 7 (Reuters) - Greece will formally protest to NATO ally Turkey over airspace violations by Turkish fighter jets in the eastern Mediterranean, Greek Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyanni said on Wednesday.

Greece’s defence ministry said Turkish fighter jets violated Greek airspace, harassing a military aircraft searching for a boat loaded with illegal immigrants in the Aegean Sea.

“These Turkish acts are outrageous,” Bakoyanni said in a statement.

“I have given instructions for a diplomatic protest to be issued. The actions harm efforts to improve Greek-Turkish relations.”

Turkey and Greece have longstanding territorial and other disputes. Greece claims a 10 nautical-mile air exclusion zone over its territory, including islands close to the Turkish coast. Turkey recognises only a six nautical-mile zone.

Greece’s defence ministry said Turkish jets entered the Athens Flight Information Region (FIR) without submitting flight plans. Turkey says its military aircraft are not obliged to submit plans.

The two countries came to the brink of war in 1996 over an islet in the Aegean, and often stage mock dogfights in disputed airspace. But bilateral ties and trade relations have improved considerably over the past decade.

Strains resurfaced in November when Athens lodged diplomatic protests after a Turkish frigate escorted an oil exploration vessel into the contested waters of the southern Aegean, thought to contain petroleum and gas reserves.

Reporting by Renee Maltezou; Editing by Nick Vinocur

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