Clashes Break Out in Athens at Mass Protest against Name Dispute Deal with Macedonia

Clashes Break Out in Athens at Mass Protest against Name Dispute Deal with Macedonia

A large rally in the Greek capital was supposed by a farmers’ blockade of the main road leading from Greece to Macedonia’s capital Skopje.

Violent clashes between protesters and riot police erupted in Greece’s capital Athens on Sunday after during a mass rally against the ratification of the name dispute deal with Macedonia.

The protest in Athens brought together tens of thousands of protesters from around Greece a day after the Tsipras government tabled the Macedonian name dispute deal for ratification to the Greek Parliament.

It also came days after the leftist Cabinet of Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras barely survived a confidence vote over the name deal with Greece’s northern neighbor, the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia.

Some 60,000 protesters rallied in Athens on Sunday against the agreement with Macedonia, according to the police, while the organizers said their number exceeded 150,000, reports Greek news site Naftemporiki.

The police also said a total of 326 buses with protesters had arrived in the capital from the country’s provinces, although some 3,000 were expected by the organizers.

Their original expectations were for 600,000 participants in the anti-name deal rally in the Greek capital.

Yet, farmers in Northern Greece did blockade the main road to Macedonia’s capital Skopje for several hours in solidarity with the protesters in Athens.

Clashes on Sunday afternoon erupted after several dozen protesters attempted to reach the front of the Greek Parliament building leading the riot police to fend them off, including with tear gas. The authorities said 10 riot police officers had been injured.

The police’s handling of the situation immediately drew negative reactions from critics, including the opposition rightist New Democracy party, which presented holds a 15% – 20% lead before Tsipras’s ruling leftist SYRIZA party, according to some public opinion polls.

A New Democracy MP even accused the Greek police of staging a provocation by deliberately allowing dozens of protesters to get close to the Parliament building so as to have an excuse to release tear gas on the protest rally.

Tsipras responded with a statement from his office directly blaming the clashes on “extremist elements and members of Golden Dawn”, refering to Greece’s most prominent far-right political formation.

The Greece – Macedonia name dispute deal was negotiated in June 2018 by Tsipras and Macedonia’s Prime Minister Zoran Zaev in the so called Prespa (Prespes) Agreement.

Under it, the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia would adopt the name “Republic of North Macedonia”, while Greece would recognize its new name, and lift its vetoes to the former’s accession talks with NATO and the EU.

Greece has been vetoing Macedonia’s bids to join the EU and NATO since it insists the name of the former Yugoslav republic threatens its national integrity as northern Greek administrative districts are also named “Macedonia”.

The ratification of the name dispute deal in Macedonia has also been tumultuous, including a failed referendum and aid from opposition defectors.

(Banner image: TV grab from AFP)

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