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Thousands of Greeks march as storm grows over Macedonia deal

21 January 2019

Scores of people were injured yesterday as demonstrators draped in Greek flags clashed with police in Athens in a massive grassroots protest against a deal that could help to normalise relations with neighbouring Macedonia. Around 2,000 law enforcement officials were deployed near the Greek Parliament building for the protests which left five police officers and a few protestors wounded, reports Anadolu Agency.

"There is only one Macedonia, the Greek Macedonia, that's it", read a sign held by one protester in Athens.

The deal, which the Greek parliament is due to ratify in days, will see Greece's neighbour be renamed the Republic of North Macedonia, following a 28-year dispute.

Police said in a statement that officers had been attacked by "organized groups of individuals with special ferocity, (using) rocks, iron bars, wooden clubs, firebombs, etc.Police forces acted according to operational plans and orders, showed restraint and professionalism and, using the appropriate methods, repelled the attacks".

Flag-waving demonstrators had created a sea of blue and white on Syntagma square near the parliament, while much of the city center was closed to traffic and some metro stations shut as a precaution.

Police estimates put the number of demonstrators at 60,000 at 1200 GMT, while organisers said 100,000 people had turned out.

Earlier this month, Macedonia's parliament approved a constitutional revision to change the country's name.

"We can not stomach this deal, to give away our Macedonia, our history", said pensioner Amalia Savrami, 67, as she waved a large Greek flag on Athens's Syntagma Square.

Macedonia is a former Yugoslav republic, but for most Greeks, Macedonia is the name of their history-rich northern province made famous by Alexander the Great's conquests.

"Macedonia is Greek, period", she said. Prime Minister Zoran Zaev has sought to accelerate the country's bid to join European Union and North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, and to work on resolving the decades-old name dispute with Greece.

Tsipras' ruling coalition fell apart over the deal a week ago, but he then narrowly won a vote of confidence, setting the stage for parliament to vote on its ratification.

Nationalists in both countries are opposed to the name change, arguing that the move erodes their respective cultural and national identities.

Thousands of Greeks march as storm grows over Macedonia deal