Protesters Gather in Athens for Macedonia Name Rally
Protesters from across Greece converged Sunday on Athens' main square outside parliament to protest a potential Greek compromise in a dispute with neighboring Macedonia over the former Yugoslav republic's official name.
Hundreds of charted buses brought protesters in from around the country to the Greek capital, while more arrived on ferries from the islands. Traffic was blocked throughout the city center and three major subway stops were closed.
Chanting "Hands off Macedonia!" and "Macedonia belongs to Greece!" tens of thousands of protesters converged on Syntagma Square, many waving flags bearing the Star of Vergina, the emblem of the ancient Greek kingdom of Macedonia.
Organizers, who hope 1 million people will attend, used a crane to raise a massive Greek flag over the square.
"We are trying to show the politicians ... that they must not give up the name 'Macedonia'," said 55-year-old protester Manos Georgiou.
About 700 left-wing and anarchist protesters set up a counter-demonstration nearby, bearing banners calling for Balkan unity.
Dozens of riot police were deployed to keep the two demonstrations separate.
The more than quarter-century dispute broke out after Macedonia gained independence from Yugoslavia in 1991.
The country is recognized by international institutions as the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, even though about 130 countries refer to it simply as Macedonia. Many Greeks refer to it by the name of its capital, Skopje.
Greece argues use of the name implies territorial claims on its own province of Macedonia, home of one of the most famous ancient Greeks, Alexander the Great.
Officials in Skopje counter that their country has been known as Macedonia for a long time.
The squabble has prevented Macedonia from joining NATO, to which Greece already belongs. The left-led governments in both countries have pledged to seek a solution this year, and have been holding talks with U.N. negotiator Matthew Nimetz.
The most likely solution will be to add a modifier such as "new" or "north" to the republic's name. But the proposals have triggered protests in both countries.
The crowd at the rally jeered when speakers mentioned Nimetz's name.
"We're expecting them to hear us," protester Maria Iosifidou said of Greece's politicians. "We don't want Skopje to take the name ...let them have another name."
About 100,000 people attended a similar protest last month in the northern Greek city of Thessaloniki, the capital of Greece's province of Macedonia./ ABC News
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