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Greek PM says Turkish jets buzzed his helicopter

FILE PHOTO: Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras arrives at a European Union leaders summit in Brussels, Belgium March 22, 2019. Julien Warnand/Pool via REUTERS

ATHENS (Reuters) – Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said Turkish jets buzzed his helicopter as he was flying on Monday to a Greek island to mark the anniversary of the 1821 uprising against Ottoman rule.

“They forced the helicopter I was on to maneuver low until Greek jets intercepted the forces violating our national air space,” Tsipras said in a speech on the island of Agathonisi, a few miles from Turkey’s Mediterranean coast.

“The message I want to send them is that such foolish actions have no meaning, they spend their gasoline for nothing. We will always be there to defend our national integrity.”

A Greek military official told Reuters that Greek F-16 fighter jets intercepted the Turkish jets about four miles away from Tsipras’s helicopter.

There was no immediate comment from Turkish authorities.

Though NATO allies, Turkey and Greece have long been at odds over issues ranging from ethnically split Cyprus to air space and overflight rights. Relations have worsened since Greece blocked the extradition of eight Turkish soldiers accused by Ankara of involvement in 2016’s failed military coup.

Reporting by Lefteris Papadimas; Editing by Mark Heinrich

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