Turkey has accused France of spreading fake news about an incident between the two countries’ navies off Libya, as Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu demanded an apology from Paris.
France had made false claims to the European Union and to the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (Nato), Cavusoglu said in Berlin, following talks with German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas.
“France must apologise to us,” Turkey’s top diplomat said.
“When France makes false claims and works against Turkey, that should not be accepted,” Cavusoglu told reporters in Berlin. “We expect France to apologise unconditionally.”
France has claimed that a Turkish naval vessel turned its fire guidance radar onto a French ship that was trying to stop a cargo vessel suspected of violating a UN arms embargo on Libya.
Turkey has dismissed the allegations as “groundless”, insisting that its vessels only observed the warship.
It accused the French ship of a “high-speed and dangerous manoeuvre”.
Turkey has given key support to Libya’s weak-yet-internationally-recognised government, which recently defeated an offensive on the capital, Tripoli, by eastern Libyan military strongman Khalifa Haftar.
“We provide [the Tripoli government] with consultancy as part of a military co-operation agreement,” Cavusoglu said in Berlin.
He decried the “contradiction” that France and the UAE were not subjected to the same scrutiny under the arms embargo and stressed that Hafter had “no legitimacy in Libya”.
Paris fiercely denies claims that it is backing Haftar, who is supported by Russia, Egypt and the UAE – though some analysts argue that France too has given him at least diplomatic backing.
Nato chief Jens Stoltenberg had said that the defence alliance would investigate the incident in the Mediterranean, which occurred on June 10.
The French frigate had been operating as part of Nato’s Sea Guardian mission.
An initial report has since been presented but a French source argued that the investigators did not have the time or means to look into it properly.
The Turkish ambassador to France, Ismail Hakki Musa, told the French Senate on Wednesday that he understood the investigation had been “not conclusive”.
France, which only won the support of eight members of the 30-strong alliance when it initially complained to the Nato about the incident, has now suspended its involvement in the Sea Guardian operation.
According to DPA’s information, the investigation is now to be discussed promptly within the alliance.
Maas remained neutral on the dispute in a press conference with his Turkish counterpart and called for dialogue.
“We have to talk about it,” he said. “I believe it is exceptionally important that relations between France and Turkey are constructive.”
In France, far-right leader Marine Le Pen said the incident “raises the question of our presence in the alliance with Turkey”.
France’s allies in the alliance “have been, to say the least, very discreet in their support for France,” Le Pen charged. “This act cannot remain without consequences!”
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