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Karabakh conflict: Turkey, France spar in verbal war

NATO allies France and Turkey have engaged in angry exchanges as international tensions mount over the fiercest clashes between Azerbaijan and Armenia since the 1990s.

On day-four of the fighting, Azerbaijan and the ethnic Armenian enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh accused each other of shelling along the line of contact that divides them in the volatile, mountainous South Caucasus.

Dozens have been reported killed and hundreds wounded in fighting since Sunday. The clashes have spread well beyond the enclave’s boundaries, threatening to spill over into all-out war between the former Soviet republics of Azerbaijan and Armenia.

The re-eruption of one of the “frozen conflicts” dating back the 1991 collapse of the USSR has raised concerns about stability in the South Caucasus. It has also heightened fears that regional powers Russia and Turkey could be drawn in.

On Wednesday, Armenia’s defence ministry tweeted video of huge explosions from artillery fire, accompanied by dramatic pounding music and captioned “Takeover of an Azerbaijan position”.

Azerbaijan, for its part, released footage showing its forces firing volleys of rockets at enemy positions, as well as grey smoke rising from inside Nagorno-Karabakh as it was hit by Azeri artillery barrage.

France, one of Turkey’s NATO allies, has been in the forefront of rising international criticism of Ankara’s stance on Nagorno-Karabakh,  a breakaway region inside Turkey’s close ally Azerbaijan. The disputed enclave is controlled by ethnic Armenians and is only recognised by the republic of Armenia.

Echoing angry comments by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Wednesday Ankara would “do what is necessary” when asked whether his country would offer military support if Azerbaijan asked for it.

Azerbaijan’s president, Ilham Aliyev, later thanked Turkey for its support but said his country did not need military assistance. He said fighting would cease if Armenian forces immediately “leave our lands.”

Mr. Cavusoglu also said French solidarity with Armenia amounted to supporting Armenian occupation in Azerbaijan.

French President Emmanuel Macron, whose country is home to many people of Armenian ancestry, hit back during a visit to Latvia. He said France was extremely concerned by “warlike messages” from Turkey “which essentially remove any of Azerbaijan’s inhibitions in reconquering Nagorno-Karabakh”.

“And that we won’t accept,” Mr. Macron warned.

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