Greece expels Libyan ambassador over Turkey deal

Athens expels Libyan ambassador over controversial deal with Turkey that sets out disputed maritime boundaries, as Mediterranean states jostle to claim yet-untapped oil and gas in the region.

ATHENS - Greece said on Friday it was expelling the Libyan ambassador, angered at an accord between Libya and Turkey signed on Nov. 27 that maps out a sea boundary between the two countries close to the Greek island of Crete.

Mohamed Younis AB Menfi had 72 hours to leave the country, Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias told a news briefing. Dendias called the Turkey-Libyan accord a "blatant violation of international law".

"I regret to announce that the Libyan ambassador was summoned to the ministry this morning and was informed of his expulsion," Dendias told reporters.

The move did not mean Greece was severing diplomatic relations with Libya, Dendias said.

Greece had asked Libya for details of the deal last week.

"The text of this agreement carries the signature of the Libyan foreign minister. It is the same person who, in September, had assured the Greek side otherwise," Dendias said.

"The coordinates of this attempt to define maritime boundaries reaffirms this deal is a blatant violation of the Law of the Sea and the sovereign rights of Greece, and other countries," Dendias said.

The Libyan embassy in Athens said it had no comment.

The expulsion is the latest twist in a saga of Mediterranean states jostling to claim yet-untapped oil and gas in the region.

Turkey and the internationally recognised government of Libya - which Ankara backs with military and financial support - signed the accord defining their boundaries and a deal on expanded security and military cooperation, a step Turkey said was protecting its rights.

The area defined in the agreement cuts across a zone currently claimed by Greece and Cyprus, where there are plans to build a pipeline that would link eastern Mediterranean gas fields with European markets.

Greece immediately shot back, calling the accord absurd because it ignored the presence of Crete between the coasts of Turkey and Libya.

"This is a legally invalid document," Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis told parliament.

"Not only is it geographically and historically invalid - wiping Greek islands off the map - but because it led Turkey to an unprecedented diplomatic isolation," he said.

"Its just a piece of paper nobody recognises."

The Libya-Turkey deal "violates international maritime law...(including) the right of Greek islands to maritime boundaries," Greek foreign ministry spokesman Alexandros Gennimatas told reporters.

"There are no borders between Turkey and Libya. Illegality does not produce law," Gennimatas said.

Egypt and Cyprus have also registered their disagreement with the pact.

Greece and Turkey are at odds over a host of issues ranging from mineral rights in the Aegean Sea to ethnically-split Cyprus. Tensions are also running high because of Turkish drilling off Cyprus, and the European Union has prepared sanctions against Turkey in response.

Analysts say Ankara's move to define its maritime boundaries with Libya is a reaction to Turkey's exclusion from energy developments in the region. Earlier this year Cyprus, Palestine, Greece, Israel, Jordan, Egypt and Italy agreed to establish the Eastern Mediterranean Gas Forum in order to take advantage of the numerous gas finds in the region in recent years.

Turkey's agreement with Libya's internationally recognised government - condemned as a 'defence pact' by Libya's rival eastern parliament - could be seen as an attempt to assert its claims in the Mediterranean through agreements with a legitimate partner.

On Thursday, Cyprus said it was petitioning the International Court of Justice to safeguard its offshore rights. Turkey has said it will continue drilling off the coast of Cyprus despite censure from its neighbours and the threat of EU sanctions.