April 21, 2019
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European Union

Clashes as Greeks protest against proposed Macedonia name change

Athens, Jan 20 (efe-epa).- Thousands of protesters gathered outside Greece's parliament in central Athens Sunday urging lawmakers not to ratify a bill that would see Macedonia change its name to the Republic of North Macedonia to clear the path for NATO and European Union membership in a move that has rattled Greek nationalists.

Syntagma square outside the parliament building was awash with a sea of blue and white Greek flags as opponents to the bid urged lawmakers not to pass the Prespes bill, which would see the Republic of Macedonia change its name to the Republic of North Macedonia in exchange for Greece lifting its veto on its EU and NATO membership.

Clashes broke out between some groups of protesters and riot police, which resulted in 12 people suffering injuries, security forces said.

Police used teargas and flash bangs to disperse crowds. At least two protesters were hospitalized, authorities said.

The debacle centers on a naming issue. Some Greeks feel that Skopje would be appropriating Greek heritage, given that it would share its name with a historically important region of northern Greece, also called Macedonia.

Indeed, the Republic of Macedonia was only admitted to the United Nations under the name the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, due to Greek objections.

Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras faces a challenging week ahead convincing the chamber to back his plan.

At least 150,000 were expected to join the rally, although official figures were yet to be made public.

Several thousand police officers were deployed to the scene.

The demonstration was organized by a nationalist group and also attracted members of the Greek Orthodox Church, soldiers and a variety of civic platforms.

Voters in the Republic Macedonia recently showed their support for the name change in a referendum.

The normalization of ties between the neighboring countries now depended on lawmakers in Greece's parliament.

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