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Tens of thousands of Greeks protest Macedonia's name

Tens of thousands of Greeks protest Macedonia's name
From Al Jazeera - February 4, 2018

Athens, Greece - Chants blared through speakers as a crane lifted a massive Greek flag above Syntagma Square, where Greeks converged from across the country to rally against negotiations over a name dispute between Athens and Skopje.

Hundreds of buses transported demonstrators from across the country for the "Macedonia is Greek" demonstration. Tens of thousands assembled in the city centre, with organisers claiming more than one million people would take to the streets.

"Hands off Macedonia," they chanted.

"Macedonia belongs to Greece," others yelled.

The demonstration comes two weeks after an estimated 300,000 people gathered in the northern coastal city of Thessaloniki to voice their opposition to the negotiations.

White-and-blue flags fluttered above, and throngs of demonstrators wearing traditional Macedonian garb marched in anger.

As that rally came to a close, anarchist counter-demonstrators clashed with police, and far-right protesters lit an anarchist squat on fire.

Assailants later vandalised a Holocaust monument.

Before Sunday's rally in Athens, activists carried out security patrols to protect dozens of squats in the city centre from potential attacks.

Nasim Lomani, an activist at the City Plaza squat, which provides residence to upwards of 350 refugees and migrants, said extra security precautions were taken.

"All the squats are ready to protect themselves in case of any fascist attack," he told Al Jazeera. "There are fascists coming from all over Greece so we have to be careful."

Decades-old dispute

The demonstrations in Athens and Thessaloniki have drawn the participation of members of the Golden Dawn, the neo-fascist party that holds 16 seats in the Hellenic Parliament.

Last month, negotiations over the decades-old name dispute between Greece, which has a northern region called Macedonia, and the Republic of Macedonia, were relaunched.

In 1991, when Greece's northern neighbour declared independence after breaking away from the war-gripped remains of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, Athens and Skopje were at odds over the name.

Greece accuses Skopje of territorial designs and falsifying its historical heritage by co-opting figures such as Alexander the Great, who ruled over the ancient kingdom of Macedon.

Meanwhile, the Republic of Macedonia, which was admitted into the United Nations in 1993 as the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM), rejects its neighbours' claim to hold an exclusive right to the name.

The dispute has prevented Skopje from completing its accession into the European Union and the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) since the 1990s.

In Skopje, former Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski oversaw a programme to erect statues of Alexander the Great, and to name highways, buildings, sports venues and the country's international airport after Greece's historical heroes.

Current Prime Minister Zoran Zaev has expressed his willingness to rename the sites and bring down the monuments that have sparked outrage in Greece.

'Undeniably far right'

At a press conference on Thursday, the rally's organisers alleged a conspiracy against Greece's claim to the name "Macedonia", blaming Hungarian-American billionaire and philanthropist George Soros for spreading "propaganda".

Nina Gatzoulis, one of the organisers and coordinator of the World Committee of Pan-Macedonian Associations, insisted the rally was "above political parties" and not affiliated with any factions.

'The real enemy is in the banks and ministries'

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