Thessaloniki .- (GreekNewsOnline, ANA-MPA, Reuters)
A protest rally over the issue of FYROM’s name, which recently became the focus of diplomatic activity between Greece and its northern neighbour aiming at a solution, was concluded in the northern Greek city of Thessaloniki on Sunday afternoon.
A platform was set up on the coastal promenade opposite the statue of Alexander the Great, with a banner proclaiming the central slogan “Macedonia is Greece”, with tens of thousands of protestors filling the surrounding area, blocking the coastal avenue and stretching from the city’s landmark White Tower on one side to the Macedonia Palace Hotel on the other.
Several members of the clergy are among those taking part, including Thessaloniki Metropolitan Anthimos, and a number of main opposition New Democracy MPs, as well as Centrists Union party leader Vassilis Leventis and MPs from his party. Members and MPs of the Independent Greeks (ANEL), the junior member of Greece’s ruling coalition government, also put in an appearance, among them the party’s vice-president Panagiotis Sgouridis.
Central Macedonia Region governor Apostolos Tzitzikostas and Thessaloniki Deputy Regional Governor Voula Patoulidou were also there, with Tzitzikostas and ND MPs walking among the crowd.
The rally began shortly after 14:00 with addresses from federations and other groups and continued with the speeches, while members of the crowd shouted slogans against politicians and Thessaloniki Mayor Yiannis Boutaris.
Meanwhile, a counter-rally was organised by anti-establishment activists in Kamara Square.
Witnesses on Sunday said about 300,000 people had gathered in Thessaloniki – the largest city in Greece’s Macedonia – many from regions across the country. It was one of the biggest protests in Greece in recent years, Reuters reported.
They waved Greek flags, held banners reading “There is only one Macedonia and it is Greek!” and chanted the national anthem as they rallied around the statue of Alexander the Great in the center of the city and along its seaside promenade and port.
Greece has agreed that until the dispute is resolved, the country whose population is about 2 million, can be referred to internationally as “FYROM” – Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. That is the name under which it was admitted to the United Nations in 1993.
FYROM declared independence in 1991, avoiding the violence that accompanied much of the breakup of Yugoslavia. Prime Minister Zoran Zaev, who took power last May, pledged to accelerate the country’s bid to join the EU and NATO and to work on resolving the name dispute.
Talks last week that were mediated by United Nations’ diplomat Matthew Nimetz, did not produce concrete results but some name suggestions were put forward for negotiation, according to local media.
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Settling the issue would be hailed as a success by Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, whose left-right coalition first came to power in 2015. So far, the issue has strained relations with his coalition ally, the right-wing Independent Greeks party which objects to the use of Macedonia in any agreed name.
“It’s totally groundless historically and absurd to seek the exclusivity of Macedonia,” Tsipras told Ethnos newspaper.
“But it is not unreasonable to have the term ‘Macedonia’ included in a compound name, with either a geographical or a chronological qualifier, for all uses, to make absolutely clear that nobody claims other people’s land or history.”
A poll last week showed that a majority of Greeks do not want “Macedonia” used in any solution.
“We won’t surrender the name Macedonia no matter if the rest of the planet surrenders it,” one of the organizers, surrounded by clerics, told a cheering crowd.