Greece pushes back at Turkey over energy race, Libya: analysts

Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias attends a meeting with Cypriot Foreign Minister Nikos Christodoulides (not pictured) at Larnaca Airport, Cyprus December 22, 2019. (Reuters)
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Updated 23 December 2019

Greece pushes back at Turkey over energy race, Libya: analysts

  • The Greek FM embarked on a tour of eastern Libya, Egypt and Cyprus
  • He is seeking support against Turkey’s contentious maritime and military deal with the embattled UN-backed government in Tripoli

ATHENS: Greece is on a diplomatic push to isolate traditional rival Turkey as tension rises between the two NATO allies over energy exploration and support for opposing factions in war-torn Libya, say analysts.
On Sunday, Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias embarked on a tour of eastern Libya, Egypt and Cyprus, seeking support against Turkey’s contentious maritime and military deal with the embattled UN-backed government in Tripoli.
Hours later, the Greek prime minister’s office announced that Athens would on January 2 host the signing of EastMed, a huge pipeline project with Cyprus and Israel to ship gas from the eastern Mediterranean to Europe.
“It’s the first time in 20 years that we’ve seen such (Greek diplomatic) activity,” Sotiris Serbos, an international politics specialist at Democritus University in Thrace, told Athens municipal radio.
Athens was alarmed when in late November Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan signed a security and military cooperation deal with UN-recognized Libyan Prime Minister Fayez Al-Sarraj.
Greece took particular exception to the agreement on maritime jurisdiction, which it said ignored the maritime boundaries of Crete. In retaliation, Greece expelled the Libyan ambassador.
Analysts in Greece say Turkey’s recent rapprochement with Libya is aimed at shoring up a rare regional ally in Tripoli’s Government of National Accord (GNA).
But they say Turkey is also trying to avoid being shut out of the gas exploration scramble in the region.
Libya has been mired in chaos since a NATO-backed uprising that toppled and killed dictator Muammar Qaddafi in 2011.
The GNA has suffered military setbacks against eastern-based strongman Khalifa Haftar. 
“Alliances create counter-alliances,” Antonis Klapsis, an assistant professor of diplomacy at the University of Peloponnese, told Greek state TV ERT.
While Greece usually defers to the EU on major diplomatic initiatives, this time it is taking the lead, having forged ties with Egypt and Israel, as well as traditional ally Cyprus.
“We can go at it alone — but we won’t be alone,” Foreign Minister Dendias told Open TV Monday.
Greece, after also securing EU backing on the issue, is now speeding up talks with Egypt on an exclusive economic zone to counter the Turkey-Libya deal.
For Alexis Papachelas, executive editor of liberal daily Kathimerini, this is a “moment of truth” in relations with decades-old rival Turkey.
“The early months of 2020 will be tough for Greek-Turkish relations,” Papachelas wrote in an opinion piece Sunday.
“The moment of truth seems to be upon us as Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan appears determined...to push Ankara’s territorial claims in the Aegean Sea and the Eastern Mediterranean,” he added.
Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis is scheduled to visit the White House on January 7.
While US diplomats have criticized the Turkey-Libya deal, US President Donald Trump has often toed a different line when it comes to Erdogan.
“It is the sort of situation where you find out who your real friends and allies are,” notes Papachelas.
The EastMed project is designed to make Cyprus, Greece and Israel key links in Europe’s energy supply chain — and thwart Turkey’s effort to bolster its presence in the eastern Mediterranean.
Its backers plan to have the 2,000-kilometer (1,200-mile) pipeline transfer between nine and 12 billion cubic meters a year from offshore gas reserves between Israel and Cyprus to Greece — and from there to Italy and other southeastern European countries.
“It is really important that the countries showed they can react quickly against Turkey’s provocative stance,” Greek government spokesman Stelios Petsas told Open TV on Sunday.
Turkey already has ships searching for oil and gas off Cyprus, which has fueled tension with the European Union.
Erdogan, who has called into question decades-old sovereignty treaties with Greece, said Sunday that Turkey “no longer had the luxury” to be silent, or coy on the issue.
“Greece and countries supporting it were for a long time making preparations to ensure Turkey could not take any steps in the sea,” Erdogan said.
“Those who have sovereignty in the Aegean, and prepare projects with their eyes on Turkey’s rights with islands, islets and rocks that do not belong to them should know the space is not empty.”


COVID-19 deaths top 4,000 in under-fire Sweden

Updated 25 May 2020

COVID-19 deaths top 4,000 in under-fire Sweden

  • The Public Health Agency said it had recorded 4,029 deaths and 33,843 confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus in the country of some 10.3 million inhabitants
  • Sweden’s death toll has far surpassed the tolls in neighboring Nordic countries, which have all imposed more restrictive containment measures

STOCKHOLM: Sweden, which has gained international attention for its softer approach to the coronavirus than many of its European neighbors, said on Monday its number of deaths passed the 4,000 mark.
The Public Health Agency said it had recorded 4,029 deaths and 33,843 confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus in the country of some 10.3 million inhabitants, with 90 percent of the deceased over the age of 70.
Sweden’s death toll has far surpassed the tolls in neighboring Nordic countries, which have all imposed more restrictive containment measures.
According to AFP’s own database, Sweden’s virus death rate of 399 per million inhabitants is far higher than Norway’s 43 per million, Denmark’s 97, or Finland’s 55.
However it is still lower than for France at 435 per million, Britain and Italy, both at 542, and Spain at 615.
Critics have accused Swedish authorities of gambling with citizens’ lives by not imposing strict stay-at-home measures. But the Public Health Agency has insisted its approach is sustainable in the long-term and has rejected drastic short-term measures as too ineffective to justify their impact on society.
The Scandinavian country has kept schools open for children under the age of 16, along with cafes, bars, restaurants and businesses, while urging people to respect social distancing and hygiene guidelines.
State epidemiologist Anders Tegnell of the Public Health Agency stressed countries’ death tolls should be compared with caution.
“In Sweden, anybody who has the diagnosis of COVID-19 and dies within 30 days after that is called a COVID-19 case, irrespective of the actual cause of death. And we know that in many other countries there are other ways of counting that are used,” he told AFP.
Tegnell has repeatedly insisted that stricter measures would not have saved more Swedish lives.
Three-quarters of those who have died have been either in nursing homes or receiving at-home care.
Tegnell noted that a ban on visits to nursing homes was introduced in mid-March, but said elderly residents needed regular contact with their carers — who were believed to have spread the virus around many nursing homes.
“I’m really not sure that we could have done so much more,” he said in a weekend interview with Swedish Radio, acknowledging nonetheless that the country had ended up in a “terrible situation that highlights the weaknesses of our elderly care.”
He said care homes had initially failed to respect basic hygiene rules that could have curbed the spread of the disease, but said the situation had since improved.
The Board of Health and Welfare meanwhile insisted Sweden’s nursing homes were functioning well.
It noted that a total of 11,000 nursing home residents died in January-April this year, compared with 10,000 during the same period a year ago.
And Tegnell told reporters Monday that the overall situation in Sweden “was getting better,” with a declining number of people being admitted to intensive care units, a drop in the number of cases being reported in nursing homes, and fewer deaths in nursing homes.