As contenders for the Cypriot presidency get ready for what looks like a heated election campaign, Nicos Anastasiades found himself in the epicentre of political controversy, entertaining the idea of a Turkish-Cypriot Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).

“If they [Turkey] choose to defend the rights of the Turkish-Cypriots to a separate, independent entity, then they must limit themselves to whatever the proportion is that belongs to the said illegal entity. Consequently, they have no reason to dispute the sovereign rights of the Republic of Cyprus,” President Anastasiades said, commenting on Turkey’s mounting pressure over Cyprus’ hydrocarbons programme.

For years Turkey has challenged Cyprus’ right to explore for hydrocarbons in its Exclusive Economic Zone, and by all indications it is preparing to conduct its own drilling within that zone in the near future.

The Cypriot president’s statement caused immediate backlash.

“With these statements, Mr Anastasiades is essentially dividing Cyprus’ EEZ and handing half of it over to the pseudo-state [Turkish occupation regime],” said presidential contender Nikolas Papadopoulos, son of the late president Tassos Papadopoulos, who rejected the Annan Plan to reunify the island in two communities in 2004.

Echoing his characterisation of the Anastasiades statement as ‘dangerous and wrong’, the left wing opposition party AKEL dismissed any doubt that Cyprus has only one indivisible EEZ, and that all that remains to be done is to delineate with that of the Republic of Turkey.

After that, government spokesman Nikos Christodoulidis issued a statement trying to appease critics: “To restore the truth, we note that President Anastasiades in his statements yesterday repeated what everyone knows, that Turkey diachronically invokes the alleged interests of the Turkish Cypriots to justify its illegal and provocative actions against the Republic of Cyprus.”