ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis is preparing to outline Saturday the details of a program to boost Greece’s defense capabilities, amid heightened tensions with neighboring Turkey over rights to resources in the eastern Mediterranean.
Mitsotakis was expected to lay out the plan, which involves military procurement, reinforcing military personnel and developing the country’s domestic defense industry, during a state of the economy address in the northern Greek city of Thessaloniki.
Nominally NATO allies, Greece and Turkey have deployed naval and air force units to assert the countries’ competing claims over energy rights in the eastern Mediterranean. Turkish survey vessels and drill ships continue to prospect for gas in waters where Greece and the European island nation of Cyprus claim exclusive economic rights.
The increasing tension at sea has led to concerns the situation could spiral into armed conflict between the two NATO members.
Turkey accuses Greece of trying to grab an unfair share of maritime resources and Cyprus of disregarding the rights of Turkish Cypriots on the ethnically divided island.
Cyprus has been divided into a Greek-Cypriot south and a Turkish-occupied north since a 1974 invasion by Turkey in response to a coup seeking to unite the island with Greece. A breakaway state in the north is recognized only by Turkey.
Greece and Turkey have conducted rival naval exercises amid their standoff. On Friday, Turkey issued a new Navtex, or international maritime safety message, for Sept. 12-Sept. 14 live-fire exercises between its southern coast and northern Cyprus.
Athens has been pushing for the European Union to impose sanctions on Turkey unless Ankara withdraws its research vessel, the Oruc Reis, from the area of the eastern Mediterranean that Greece claims as its continental shelf.
The annual trade fair where Mitsotakis is set to speak will be far more limited than in previous years due to measures to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Various groups, including anti-mask and anti-vaccine advocates, planned to protest outside the venue of the prime minister’s evening speech.
Security measures were being put in place in Thessaloniki for the protests, which have frequently turned violent in previous years.
The prime minister’s speech will also address economic measures to tackle the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.