Greek riot police fire tear gas at protesters as Macedonia name protest turns violent

The potential name change will be decided by a referendum on 30 September 

Casper Hughes
Sunday 09 September 2018 23:02
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Alexis Tsipras and Zoran Zaev sign agreement on Macedonia name change

Greek police have fired tear gas at protesters furious at a deal to allow the country north of its borders to call itself the Republic of North Macedonia.

People wearing gas masks hurled stones at riot police in the city of Thessaloniki, where prime minister and Syriza leader Alexis Tsipras later spoke about his plans for the economy.

Many Greeks, backed by right-wing nationalist politicians, say only the northern Greek region of Macedonia should be able to use the name and not the former Yugoslav state, which is currently known as Fyrom (the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia).

They claimed the name change could eventually lead to its northern neighbour claiming the Greek territory as its own, as well as watering down ancient Greek culture and civilisation.

Thousands took part in the demonstrations on the streets of Thessaloniki, with many waving Greek flags. In chaotic scenes, riot police were seen pursuing protesters as they ran alongside barriers ahead of a speech by Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras.

Mr Tsipras said on Sunday he did not expect that the naming row would force early elections despite disagreement within his governing coalition.

Macedonians will vote in a referendum to decide on the name change on 30 September. But for the country’s citizens there is more than just a name at stake: the move would also see the nation’s potential inclusion in Nato and the EU.

In the Macedonian capital Skopje on Saturday, German chancellor Angela Merkel told her audience that now Greece’s veto had ended, it now had a historic opportunity to join the European Union.

Similarly, Nato general secretary Jens Stoltenberg addressed Macedonians on Thursday to persuade them to vote for the name change and thus potentially join the international military alliance.

“This is a historic opportunity,” Mr Stoltenberg said. “It is a once in a lifetime opportunity to join the international community, to become a member of Nato, to become a member of the EU, but for this you have to agree with the name agreement.”

The move is opposed by right-wing nationalists in Macedonia however who label it unconstitutional. “I believe that the real place for Macedonia is in the European Union and Nato. I’ll continue to support our strategic goals. But, EU and Nato cannot be an alibi for a bad deal,” President Gjorge Ivanov said after meeting Mr Stoltenberg.

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