Greek Protesters Clash With Police Over Macedonia Name Deal

Clay Curtis
January 21, 2019

At least 60,000 protesters clashed with riot police in Athens today, using poles, smoke bombs and even Molotov cocktails during demonstrations against a controversial name change deal with Macedonia.

Protesters, some wearing traditional army suits, chanted slogans like "Macedonia is Greek", and asking the government to hold a referendum for the issue, while police used tear gas to keep demonstrators away from parliament.

Masked protestors tossed red paint and flares at the shield-bearing officers who guarded a narrow ladder leading to the parliament building in a scene reminiscent of the movie "300".

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. ..."

Hundreds of buses, especially from northern Greece, had brought protesters in for the rally, on Syntagma square near the parliament.

The violence flared as Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras attempts to face down a political storm over his championing of a landmark agreement with Macedonia aimed at ending a 27-year dispute with Athens over the country's name. "Police forces acted according to operational plans and orders, showed restraint and professionalism, and using the appropriate methods, repelled the attacks".

The country has been referred to as Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, abbreviated as FYROM, due to objections from Athens to its shorter name.

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Demonstrators clash with riot police during a rally in Athens, Sunday, Jan. 20, 2019.

The dispute dates back to 1991 and the break-up of Yugoslavia after Macedonia adopted its name when it became an independent nation.

Greek lawmakers were expected to start a debate on January 21 on ratifying the agreement and vote on it by the end of the week.

Former Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras said the protest was "a demonstration for democracy, for Greece and for our rights".

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.

Last week, Macedonia's parliament approved a constitutional revision to change the country's name. Prime Minister Zoran Zaev has sought to accelerate the country's bid to join European Union and North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, and to work on resolving the decades-old name dispute with Greece.

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