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Thousands protest Macedonia name change

June 3, 2018

As Macedonia and Greece approach the final stages of talks over Macedonia's name change, thousands have taken to the streets. Name tensions have stymied Macedonia's efforts to join the EU, with Greece holding veto power.

Opposition protest in Macedonia
Image: Getty Images/AFP/R. Atanasovski

Thousands of right-wing opposition supporters in Macedonia protested against plans to change the country's name in the capital, Skopje, on Saturday.

Protesters waving Macedonian and party flags gathered in front of the main government building, with some holding banners reading "Macedonia will win."

Read more: Macedonia: What's in a name?

Prime Minister Zoran Zaev said Wednesday that negotiations with Athens to resolve the 27-year-old dispute over the name were in "the final stages."

Athens has taken issue with the neighboring country's constitutional name, the Republic of Macedonia, because Greece has a northern province called Macedonia, and is concerned it may imply territorial ambitions.

The issue has hampered Macedonia's hopes of joining the European Union and NATO, as Greece has the power to veto its membership bid.

Read more: Opinion: Western Balkans have a place in the European Union

Protesters in Macedonia
Thousands of protesters gathered outside the government building in the capital Image: picture-alliance/AP/B. Grdanoski

Opposition party leader Hristijan Mickoski said his party, VMRO-DPMNE, would not support any constitutional bid to change the name of the country.

"We are very clear on this subject," Mickoski said during the protest march.

Name will include 'Macedonia'

The new name will almost certainly contain "Macedonia," something many Greeks oppose. Potential names include "New Macedonia" and "Upper Macedonia."

A senior Macedonian official said any name change agreed upon with Greece would have to be ratified by the parliament and then subjected to a referendum.

Despite objections from Greece, the country joined the United Nations in 1993 under the name of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, or FYROM for short.

Protests are also being planned for next week in northern Greece against what some see as a compromise solution being finalized between the Greek and Macedonian leaders.

law/cmk (AFP, Reuters)

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