ATHENS (Reuters) - Cyprus on Friday said Turkey's action in sending a drill ship to an area Nicosia has licensed for offshore hydrocarbons exploration was a 'severe escalation' of what it called Ankara's violations of the island's sovereign rights.
Turkey has sent an oil and gas drilling ship to waters off southern Cyprus where Greek Cypriot authorities have already awarded exploration rights to Italian and French companies.
In a strongly-worded statement, the Cypriot presidency accused Turkey of 'bullying tactics of an era long gone' and called on Turkey to withdraw its assets from the area.
"This new provocation is exemplary of Turkey's defiance of the European Union's, and the international community's, repeated calls to cease its illegal activities," it said.
The statement also urged Turkey to respect the sovereign rights of the Republic of Cyprus to explore and exploit its natural resources within its maritime zones.
"It is yet another proof of the utterly provocative and aggressive behavior of Ankara, which has chosen to speedily and irreversibly depart from international legality, thus putting security and stability in the Eastern Mediterranean at risk."
On Friday morning the drill ship, the Yavuz, had stopped about 51 nautical miles southwest of Cyprus.
Turkey has already drilled two wells in waters to the island's east and west, triggering strong protests from Nicosia and the European Union.
Turkey says some of the areas where Cyprus is exploring are either on its own continental shelf, or in zones where Turkish Cypriots have equal rights over any finds with Greek Cypriots.
The island was split in a Turkish invasion in 1974 triggered by a brief Greek-inspired coup.
The internationally recognised Greek Cypriot government represents Cyprus in the European Union, while a breakaway Turkish Cypriot state in the north is recognised only by Ankara.
(Reporting by Michele Kambas; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)