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Thousands Protest Macedonian Name Change Deal In Skopje

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Protesters In Skopje March Against Macedonia Name Change
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WATCH: Protesters In Skopje March Against Macedonia Name Change

Several thousand protesters from Macedonia's right-wing opposition have marched through the capital, Skopje, to protest against Prime Minister Zoran Zaev's deal with Greece to change the country's name.

The group, waving red-and-yellow Macedonian flags late on November 28, was led by the nationalist VMRO-DPMNE party that was ousted from power last year and has seen its ranks weakened further in recent months.

The party has so far failed to thwart the deal that Zaev, the pro-EU leader of the Social Democrats, struck with Greece this year to rename the country North Macedonia.

If the change is finalized in parliament, Athens has promised to lift its veto on Skopje's attempts to join NATO and the European Union.

Greece has blocked Macedonia's aspirations for years, insisting that the country's current name, Republic of Macedonia, implies a claim on ancient Greek culture and its own northern province with the same name.

Macedonian critics of the deal have argued that Zaev allowed the country to be bullied into the agreement by Greece.

VMRO-DPMNE leader Hristijan Mickoski in a speech to the crowd accused Zaev of "treason" and claimed his deal with Greece was a "national humiliation" that will lead to the country's economic destruction.

He and his supporters demanded early elections and the resignation of the government.

"We'll show you your place in history, the dark side of history, in the next early or regular elections," Mickoski said, calling for weekly protests in the capital.

The protesters paraded from the party's headquarters to parliament nearby. The protest ended peacefully after several hours.

"We should not allow the centuries-old name of our fatherland Macedonia to be changed," Marlena Janeva, 70, told AFP.

After a dramatic vote in parliament that saw several VMRO-DPMNE legislators defect from their party to approve the name change, parliament is now drafting constitutional amendments to enshrine the deal.

To become law, the amendments will need to pass with a two-thirds majority in a final vote.

Earlier this month, the VMRO-DPMNE's former leader, former Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski, who ruled the country between 2006 and 2016, fled Macedonia to escape a two year prison sentence for abuse of power.

He was granted asylum in Hungary in a move that outraged Skopje, which has demanded his return.

With reporting by AP and AFP
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