New rallies planned in Greece over Macedonian name dispute

June 04, 2018 - 10:22 am

THESSALONIKI, Greece (AP) — Activists wanting the Greek government to take a tough stance with Macedonia over the latter country's name said Monday they are planning rallies in the birthplace of Alexander the Great and a dozen more towns in northern Greece.

Wednesday's gatherings in Pella and elsewhere are meant to show that residents of Greece's Macedonia province are "in a state of alert" over the negotiations between the Greek and Macedonian governments, organizers said.

They said they enjoy the backing of local church and municipal officials.

Since Macedonia gained independence from the former Yugoslavia in 1991, Greece has maintained that the republic's name implies claims on its own province and on the heritage of ancient Greek Macedonia, of which Alexander was king.

The dispute has hampered Macedonia's efforts to join NATO and the European Union.

The two countries say they are nearing a solution, although a Greek government official said Friday that prospects for a deal being achieved within days were receding.

Rally organizers called Monday for any agreement to be put to a referendum in Greece, and insisted that the word Macedonia should not be included in the country's name under any permutation. That would exclude names reportedly under discussion such as New Macedonia or Northern Macedonia.

Similar protests have been held by hardliners in both Greece and Macedonia over the past few months, ever since the two governments announced that a new push at a solution was under way. More than 100,000 people attended a rally in Athens in February.

The new negotiations have been facilitated by last year's change of government in Macedonia, with Zoran Zaev's left-led coalition seen as more amenable to a compromise than the conservatives who ruled the country for the previous decade.

Skopje's main incentive is the prospect of Greece lifting its objections to Macedonia joining the EU and NATO.

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