The Greek prime minister says that the Turkish jets have forced his helicopter to reduce the altitude

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

ATHENS (Reuters) – Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said Turkish jets buzzed his helicopter as he flew Monday to a Greek island to celebrate the anniversary of the 1821 uprising against Ottoman rule, but the Turkey said there was no attempt to intercept his flight.

"They forced the helicopter I was on to maneuver until Greek jets intercepted the forces that violated our national airspace," Tsipras said in a speech on the island of Agathonisi, a few miles away from the Mediterranean coast of Turkey.

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

A Greek military official told Reuters that Greek F-16 fighters intercepted Turkish jets about four miles away from Tsipras' helicopter.

A Turkish security source said Turkish jets were carrying out routine missions. "There was no attempt at interception by Turkish fighters during the activities of the Greek prime minister," the source said.

Despite NATO allies, Turkey and Greece have long disagreed on issues ranging from the ethnic division of Cyprus to airspace and overflight rights. Relations have deteriorated since Greece blocked the extradition of eight Turkish soldiers accused by Ankara of being involved in the failed 2016 military coup.

Report of Lefteris Papadimas in Athens and Tulay Karadeniz in Ankara; Editing by Mark Heinrich and Hugh Lawson

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