Athens police fire tear gas at protesters as 1000s rally against Macedonia name-change deal (VIDEO)
21 January, 2019, 20:40
Scores of people were injured yesterday as demonstrators draped in Greek flags clashed with police in Athens in a massive grassroots protest against a deal that could help to normalise relations with neighbouring Macedonia.
The issue evokes strong emotions among Greeks who consider Macedonia, the ancient kingdom ruled by Alexander the Great, to be an integral part of their homeland and heritage. The agreement, which was signed in June 2018 between Greece and Macedonia, will be voted on in Parliament on January 25.
Law enforcement officials said in a statement that officers had been attacked by "organized groups of individuals with special ferocity, [using] rocks, iron bars, wooden clubs, firebombs etc. ..."
Scuffles broke out after about 30 masked youths tried to force the closure of the parliament building, with riot police responding by using volleys of tear gas to disperse the seething mob.
Hundreds of buses, especially from northern Greece, had brought protesters in for the rally, on Syntagma square near the parliament.
Protest organizers said they hoped to attract more than 600,000 demonstrators.
Protesters clash with police during a rally against the Prespes agreement between Athens and Skopje regarding the name "Northern Macedonia".
Demonstrators clash with riot police during a rally in Athens, Sunday, Jan. 20, 2019.
"We can not stomach this deal, to give away our Macedonia, our history", said pensioner Amalia Savrami, 67, as she waved a large Greek flag on Athens's Syntagma Square.
Currently, the ex-Yugoslav state is formally referred to at the United Nations as the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, or FYROM.
Greece's parliament is expected to start a debate on ratification of the deal on Monday and vote on it by Friday.
Macedonia's parliament approved a constitutional revision to change the country's name 10 days ago.
The accord, signed by the two governments, unblocks the ex-Yugoslav republic's desire to join North Atlantic Treaty Organisation and the European Union once it is ratified by Greece's parliament.
Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras' leftist Syriza party has 145 deputies and enough independent deputies have pledged their support to secure approval.
In exchange, Athens would lift its objections to the country joining North Atlantic Treaty Organisation and the European Union. Under the deal, Macedonia changes its name to the Republic of North Macedonia.
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