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Cyprus backtracks on claim that 'pirate state' Turkey stole gas data

Government spokesman says accusation was 'slip of the tongue,' adding that information may have been obtained from Cypriot government's own website

Cyprus has backtracked on a claim that Turkey "stole" technical data enabling it to drill for natural gas in waters where the island nation has exclusive economic rights.

Government spokesman Kyriakos Koushos told the Associated Press on Thursday that the word "stolen" was a "slip of the tongue," adding that no such data theft had occurred.  

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Koushous had previously told Greece's state broadcaster ERT that although Cypriot authorities did not have definitive proof, it was believed that Ankara had "stolen plans and studies" that enabled it to send a drill ship to a specific location selected by energy giants Eni and Total.

Koushous then went onto accuse Ankara of "gunboat diplomacy," adding "Turkey has become the pirate state of the east Mediterranean."

However, the government spokesman retracted the fiery accusation on Thursday, saying that Ankara had not stolen any such data.

He said that the data may have been gleaned from a Turkish research vessel that scoured an area south of the Cypriot coastal town of Limassol for months.

He also said that the information may have been obtained from the Cypriot Environment Ministry's own website.

The ministry had posted Eni-provided geological data about the area back in 2017, made public in accordance with existing laws at the time. Those laws were later amended in 2018.

'Deeply concerned'

Turkey insists that its drilling activities fall within its own continental shelf and are also part of a deal with Turkish Cypriots, whose self-declared republic is recognised only by Ankara.

Cyprus was divided along ethnic lines in 1974 when Turkey invaded the island following a coup by supporters of a union with Greece.

Ankara has dispatched warship-escorted drill ships to drilling targets to the east and west of the island nation, provoking international condemnation and threats of sanctions from the European Union.

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The US State Department said on Wednesday that Washington remained "deeply concerned" over reports that Turkey was moving to drill south of Cyprus, urging Turkish authorities to halt the "provocative step that raises tensions in the region".

Washington reitirated US support for Cyprus's right to develop resources inside its exclusive economic zone.

The comments come a time of high tensions in the eastern Mediterranean as Turkey looks to step up its oil and gas activities after signing a contentious maritime cooperation deal with Libya late last year.

Earlier this month, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Ankara would begin offering licenses for hydrocarbons exploration and drilling in areas of the Mediterranean claimed by Turkey under the controversial pact with Libya.

The maritime cooperation agreement was signed with Libya's Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA) last November last and grants Ankara rights to large swathes of the eastern Mediterranean.

Greece, Cyprus and Egypt have condemned the treaty, and Athens has threatened to withdraw support from any future Libya peace deal if the pact is not cancelled.