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Greeks Rally In Protest Over Macedonia Name Dispute


Protesters In Athens Reject 'Macedonia' Concessions
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Tens of thousands of Greeks have staged a mass rally in Athens urging the government not to compromise in the country’s long-running name dispute with neighboring Macedonia.

Organizers claimed some 1.5 million people from all over the country traveled to Athens' central Syntagma Square on February 4 to join the demonstration against Skopje's use of the name Macedonia.

Police put the figure at around 140,000.

Demonstrators carrying Greek flags chanted slogans such as "hands off Macedonia" and "Macedonia is Greece" as they assembled in the square outside parliament.

Renowned Greek composer Mikis Theodorakis, 92, addressed the crowd, saying, "Macedonia was, is, and will forever be Greek."

Greek Prime Minister Alexi Tsipras has been considering a resolution to the dispute -- angering both opposition politicians and members of his own nationalist coalition.

In a statement released by his office on February 4, Tsipras said that "the million protesters that the organizers [of the demonstration] imagined was wishful thinking."

"The crushing majority of Greek people conclude that foreign policy issues should not be dealt with fanaticism," he added.

Among those at the February 4 rally in Athens were mayors, senior religious figures, Greek military officers, and former Prime Minister Antonis Samaras, who was Greece's foreign minister when the name dispute began.

Protesters wave Greek national flags and shout slogans during a rally against the use of the term "Macedonia" in Athens on February 4.
Protesters wave Greek national flags and shout slogans during a rally against the use of the term "Macedonia" in Athens on February 4.

The dispute broke out after Macedonia, for decades a part of the former Yugoslavia, gained independence in 1991.

Greece argues the neighbor's name implies claims on its own province of Macedonia and wants it changed. The Macedonian government denies the charge.

Leaders of the two countries have said progress has been made in settling the dispute, with indications that any agreement could include Macedonia adding "Upper," "New," or "North" to its name.

UN negotiator Matthew Nimetz on February 1 voiced optimism that the Balkan neighbors could end the dispute this year, despite vehement opposition from nationalist parties in both countries.

The Athens protest would be the second major demonstration in the capital in recent weeks. It is being organized and funded by Greek diaspora groups, backed by retired officer associations, Greek Macedonian cultural unions, church groups, and others.

Outside the capital, tens of thousands of protesters gathered in Thessaloniki on January 21 in the first major protest over the name dispute, with police saying 90,000 people attended but organizers putting the number at 400,000.

The government has said the protests will not affect its efforts to solve the dispute. "Not having a solution undermines our national interest," Tsipras said recently.

Based on Greece's objections to the use of the name, Macedonia in 1993 joined the United Nations as the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM).

With reporting by AFP, Greek Reporter, and Channel NewsAsia
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