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People in Athens demonstrate to urge the government not to compromise in the festering name row with Macedonia People in Athens demonstrate to urge the government not to compromise in the festering name row with Macedonia  (AFP or licensors)

Greeks rally to demand Macedonia name change

Huge crowds gathered in the streets of Athens on Sunday in a protest about the decades-long dispute over the name Macedonia.

By John Carr

Hundreds of thousands of Greeks descended on central Syntagma Square here in Athens on Sunday to shout thunderous defiance at neighbouring Macedonia, which they accuse of appropriating a historic Greek name.

For at least two hours the flag-waving crowd, stirred up by high-profile speakers, shouted abuse at the neighbouring republic and condemned efforts underway by the United Nations to settle this long-running dispute between the two Balkan countries.  Thousands of demonstrators were bused in from all over Greece, many coming by overnight ferry from Crete.

The vexed issue of the Macedonian name has been simmering for at least 25 years, as Greece, alone among the countries of the world, refuses to call its northern neighbour Macedonia, saying it implies designs on the Geek province of the same name.  Last month Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras indicated he wanted to settle the name issue for good.  But he came under attack from his rightwing coalition partner, the Independent Greeks, who are refusing any compromise.  The Greek media have also been whipping up chauvinist sentiment.

Until recently it appeared that Tsipras would be able to manage the issue in a low key, and work out a compromise between Athens and Skopje.  But today’s mass rally here in Athens has made his job a lot harder, as the Macedonians north of the border, as a result, are hardening their stand as well.

Listen to John Carr's report
04 February 2018, 17:26