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Macedonians Protest Name Change As PM Offers Greece Options

Protesters rally against changing the name of Macedonia in Skopje on February 27.

Several thousand Macedonians have taken to the streets in the capital, Skopje, to protest against a possible change of their country's name, as required by Greece to end a long-running dispute.

Defying freezing temperatures and snow on February 27, the protesters, organized by a network of several civic associations, held umbrellas in the colors of the Macedonian flag and chanted "Long live Macedonia!" and "Macedonians!"

The protesters demanded an end to ongoing talks between the Macedonian and Greek governments aimed at resolving the decades-long dispute.

The former Yugoslav republic has been holding extensive talks with neighboring Greece in recent months in an effort to resolve the dispute over the name Macedonia, which Greeks say implies territorial claims to a northern region of Greece.

The protest was organized by the World Macedonian Congress and several other Macedonian associations.

They accused the government of Prime Minister Zoran Zaev and the main opposition nationalist VMRO-DPMNE party of betraying Macedonia's national interests.

Political parties, including the VMRO-DPMNE, said they had nothing to do with the protest.

Zaev earlier said he had offered four options to Greece in an effort to resolve the dispute.

Zaev said in an interview with Reuters in London on February 27 that he had suggested to Greek officials that Macedonia officially be called one of the following: the Republic of North Macedonia, Republic of Upper Macedonia, Republic of Vardar Macedonia, or the Republic of Macedonia (Skopje).

The name issue has greatly hindered Skopje's efforts to gain entry to the European Union and NATO, the latter of which has been blocked by Greece.

Zaev said that Greece had some "more preferred options and some not so preferred options [in terms of the name]," but was satisfied with the options he has proposed.

He said one remaining question was whether there is "a real need" to change the Macedonian Constitution, as Greece also objects to a few articles of it that it says could also imply a claim to Greek territory.

Zaev said Macedonians were "prepared to do a change [of the constitution]" but added that it would be "very difficult."

The Greek and Macedonian foreign ministers are to hold talks on the issue in March, and Zaev also plans to meet with Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras that month.

With reporting by Reuters