New Greek nationalist defense minister prompts Turkey to scramble jets

By REUTERS
January 30, 2015 19:21
1 minute read.

Greece's new nationalist defense minister prompted Greece's perennial rival Turkey to scramble jets on Friday, just days after he took office, by flying over uninhabited islets off the Turkish coast that nearly triggered a war in 1996.

Turkish fighter jets entered Greek airspace and were intercepted by Greek jets as Defense Minister Panos Kammenos and military chiefs flew by helicopter to the islet of Imia to drop wreaths in memory of three Greek officers killed nearby in a helicopter crash 19 years ago, the Greek Defense Ministry said.

Kammenos heads the small, right-wing, Eurosceptical Independent Greeks party, and the episode underlines the risk that its unlikely coalition with Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras's leftwing Syriza party, winner of last week's election, will come under strain on issues not related to their shared desire to end Greece's austerity program.

Imia, known in Turkish as Kardak, lies just seven km (four miles) off the Turkish coast. Greece and Turkey, both members of NATO, have long disputed its sovereignty and, in 1996, came close to war over the islets.

"The reason the defense minister went there was to show his patriotism and to honor those who died there," Independent Greeks party spokeswoman Marina Chysoveloni said. "No one had ever done this in the last 19 years."


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