Greeks launch massive protest in dispute over Macedonia's name

Golden Dawn leader Nikolaos Michaloliakos accused the government of national betrayal

Golden Dawn leader Nikolaos Michaloliakos accused the government of national betrayal

The name of Macedonia is contentious because to many Greeks, it implies a claim over the Greek region of the same name.

Greek flags flew above the crowd of hundreds of far-right demonstrators in the Greek capital as the neo-fascist Golden Dawn party rallied amid fears of violence at an upcoming protest against negotiations between Athens and Skopje over a long-standing name dispute.

The country is officially called the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, but Macedonia is also a region in Northern Greece.

Because of Greece's objections, Macedonia in 1993 joined the United Nations as the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM). In the last few months the hopes of reaching an agreement between the two neighbouring countries have grown, fueled by the optimism that emerged from the summit meetings between the two prime ministers Alexis Tsipras and Zoran Zaev.

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About 300,000 people turned out at a demonstration on January 21 in Thessaloniki, capital of Greece's Macedonia region.

Police placed the estimated attendance at around 140,000.

Theodorakis claimed that Macedonia, with foreign backing, seeks to expand its borders at Greece's expense. By late afternoon February 4, sporadic episodes of violence requiring some use of tear gas were reported on the periphery of the event (no arrests) and in downtown areas such as Exarcheia, where anti-almost anything protestors routinely organise with impunity, especially since the SYRIZA-Independent Greeks coalition came to power but even before.

"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.

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The dispute has caused Skopje's delays in Macedonia's accession to the European Union and the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO).

Greece's leftist-led government has proposed a compound name, with a geographical qualifier, which would be the only name that could be used for the country.

A poll published in the conservative Kathimerini newspaper showed that about 70 percent of Greeks oppose the use of "Macedonia" in any solution.

While organisers of Sunday's rally have denied any affiliation to political parties, critics accuse them of pushing a nativist and far-right agenda.

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Mr Ker-Lindsay said: "The real worry (at the protest) is that fringe elements would use this opportunity to start attacking police, use firebombs".

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