Tens of thousands protests in Athens over Macedonia compromise


A massive rally, organized by Macedonian organizations overseas, will take place in Athens on Sunday and is expected to gather hundreds of thousands of people, protesting against the use of "Macedonia" in the name of the neighboring former Yugoslav republic FYROM.

As a huge Greek flag flew over central Syntagma Square from atop a crane, Greeks from all over the country and overseas chanted "Hands off Macedonia", "Macedonia is Greek" and "We won't leave until we are vindicated".

Renowned Zorba the Greek composer Mikis Theodorakis is expected to be the keynote speaker despite battling health issues at 92.

"It will send a very strong message both inside and outside Greece", said Patsikas, who added he expected up to 1 million people to converge near the capital's Syntagma Square for the demonstration.

But the modern conflict erupted in 1991, when Macedonia became an independent republic after the collapse of Yugoslavia, of which it was a part.

The protest - the second on the Macedonia issue in a fortnight - was organised and funded by Greek diaspora groups, with the support of retired officer associations, cultural unions and church groups.

Greece has opposed the name, saying its region has been named Macedonia since Alexander the Great - also known as Alexander III of Macedon - ruled from 336 BC.

Anarchists stationed a counter-protest nearby, with riot police deployed to keep the two crowds apart.

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A similar rally took place in January and was attended by over 100,000 people.

Athens seeks guarantees that the use of the name by its neighbour implies no claim to parts of its own territory.

The government has said the protests will not affect its efforts to solve the dispute.

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras is considering this.

People hold Greek flags as they demonstrate to urge the government not to compromise in the festering name row with neighbouring Macedonia, at the Syntagma Square in Athens, on February 4, 2018.

The squabble has prevented Macedonia from joining North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, to which Greece already belongs.

To break the deadlock, longterm United Nations mediator Matthew Nimetz has now proposed several alternative names in Macedonian, including "Republika Nova Makedonija" or the "Republic of New Macedonia".

"We will fight with all our might against the unacceptable, unlawful, treacherous act of Greek politicians to surrender the name, history, civilization and soul of Macedonia and Greece", rally organizer, the Teachers' Council of the Greek Community of Toronto, said in a Facebook post.