Thousands protest in Athens against Macedonia name change

There are both violent peaceful elements to the anti-agreement demonstration in Athens [Alexandros Avramidis-Reuters]

Thousands of protesters have gathered in Syntagma Square in Athens to demonstrate against Greece’s agreement with Macedonia to change the latter’s name to North Macedonia.

Some protesters clashed with riot police on the steps up to the parliament building on Sunday, throwing rocks, flares, firebombs, paint and other objects.

Police responded by firing tear gas cannisters.

Macedonian parliament agrees to change country’s name

The name-change agreement is the result of a dispute between Macedonia and Greece over history and national identity that has lasted 27 years.

Many Greeks are alarmed by the agreement, saying it recognises a Macedonian nationality, which could could ignite competitive claims on ancient Greek history and heritage.

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“They are not part of the predominately peaceful crowd. It’s a bit of a war zone,” John Psaropoulos, reporting for Al Jazeera from the demonstration, said.

Protester Natasha Afanasiadou told the Associated Press there was “no way” she could not come to the demonstration as she did not want to look back on what was happening and think she had not protested against it.

Greece and Macedonia, whose official name is the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, agreed last June to a deal that would change the name of Greece’s northern neighbour.

In exchange, Greece would lift its objections to the country joining NATO.

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The agreement has led to challenges for Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, who has survived two no-confidence votes since it was made. The demonstration is the latest challenge for Tsipras’s policy on Macedonia’s name.

However, it’s “unlikely because the PM has said very consistently … that he will bring his ratification to Greek parliament”, Psaropoulos said.

Greece’s parliament is expected to start a debate on ratification of the deal on Monday and vote on it by Friday.

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