Greece, Turkey inaugurate joint gas pipeline

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TURKISH/GREEK BORDER, Nov 18 (Reuters) Greece and Turkey today inaugurated a pipeline that will pump natural gas from the Caspian Sea to Europe, easing the continent's dependence on Russian energy supplies and boosting ties between old rivals.

Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan and Costas Karamanlis, his Greek counterpart, shook hands in a symblic meeting on a bridge over the river Evros, or Meric in Turkish, which separates the two countries.

''We are forming a bridge as an energy transit country,'' Erdogan said in a speech at a ceremony held at Ipsala on the Turkish side of the border.

The project marks another step forward in boosting ties between two former foes, creating energy partners out of two NATO members who came close to war as recently as 1996.

''It is a great step forward for relations bewteen the two countries and for stability in the region. By cooperating we can build a better future for all,'' Karamanlis said, reiterating his country's support for Turkey's bid to join the European Union.

Greece and Turkey, still divided over territorial disputes in the Aegean sea and the island of Cyprus, agreed in 2004 to build the 285 km gas pipeline between Karacabey in northern Turkey and Komotini in Greece.

The pipeline will eventually carry around 12 billion cubic metres (bcm) of gas a year -- 3 bcm for Greece and the rest for re-export to Europe -- from Azerbaijan's Shah Deniz field.

The European Union is backing the Greek-Turkish project as it seeks to diversify its energy suppliers and reduce its natural gas dependence on Russia, from where it buys about a quarter of its gas.

''Turkey is moving fast to become the fourth energy supply route for natural gas to western Europe. There is a mutual dependence in energy policies which will help create a favourable atmosphere,'' Erdogan said.

Greece is already forging ahead with an extension of the pipeline to run from its west coast, under the Adriatic sea to Italy, giving central Europe much-needed access to natural gas from the Caspian sea by 2012.

A much bigger, 31-billion-cubic-metre capacity pipeline, the Nabucco, backed by the EU and designed to ease the bloc's dependence on Russian gas, is still in the planning. It is designed to cut through the Balkans to Austria.

Reuters SZ RS1839

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