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Archive for the ‘Protests in Greece’ Category

Thousands protest as Greek lawmakers debate Macedonia deal

January 25, 2019

ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Thousands demonstrated in Greece’s main cities and along the country’s northern border Thursday against a deal to normalize relations with neighboring Macedonia, a day before lawmakers were expected to approve the agreement that would end a 27-year dispute over a historic name.

Police said as many as 2,500 protesters gathered outside parliament in central Athens as lawmakers debated a government deal that would lift objections to Macedonia joining NATO and potentially, the European Union, after the young country is renamed North Macedonia.

Protesters waved Greek flags and chanted “Hands off, Macedonia” while the session inside continued late in the night. A small number of people launched Molotov cocktails, rocks and flares at riot officers, who responded with tear gas and stun grenades.

The violence broke up the demonstration, and protesters drifted off, further discouraged by heavy rain. Police said they arrested 10 people and detained another 133 on suspicion of committing or planning acts of violence. A new protest has been called outside parliament Friday.

The agreement, strongly backed by western countries that want to limit Russian influence in the Balkans, has stirred patriotic sentiment, incensed nationalists and dismayed many in both Macedonia and Greece who think it gave away too much to the other side. Polls show that at least two in three Greeks are against it.

“Politicians come and go, but Macedonia will always be Greek,” said Thanassis Godis, a speaker at the main Athens rally who is from the northern town of Kavala. “Their country is based on a lie. Our struggle isn’t over.”

Opposition is particularly fierce in the northern Greek region of Macedonia, which borders the former Yugoslav republic that claimed the same name after winning independence in 1991. Critics claim the deal will sign away their Macedonian identity and a cultural heritage dating back to the glorious days of Alexander the Great more than 2,300 years ago.

The ratification vote in parliament originally was scheduled for Thursday. Debate was extended until Friday to accommodate a large number of registered speakers, as opposition parties accused the government of making unacceptable concessions to Greece’s small, landlocked Balkan neighbor.

Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras urged lawmakers to approve the agreement, already ratified by Macedonia’s parliament, saying it was the best possible deal after years of deadlock. “Nationalism in the Balkans has led to disasters,” Tsipras said. “And I believe the time has come to escape nationalism.”

Opposition leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis, whose conservative New Democracy party leads in polls ahead of a national election later this year, rejected the deal as a “national defeat.” He threatened to thwart Macedonia’s EU membership drive if his party triumphs with voters.

About 1,500 police officers were on duty in Athens, fearing a repeat of riots during a protest outside parliament on Sunday, when far-right nationalists armed with clubs, gasoline bombs and rocks tried to invade the grounds of the building.

On Thursday, about 4,500 Communist Party supporters protested peacefully against the Macedonia agreement in another part of Athens. At the Evzones border crossing into Macedonia, hundreds of farmers and other local residents blocked traffic with their vehicles for hours.

The town of Polykastro, the closest to the border on the Greek side, shut down all municipal services for two hours in a symbolic show of opposition. “Flags are flying at half-staff, the (church) bells were ringing mournfully, because we don’t want this deal to go through,” said Mayor Christos Gountenoudis.

Several lawmakers from the governing Syriza party and others elected from northern constituencies who committed to backing the deal have faced intense pressure — including arson attacks and death threats — to reject the deal in Friday’s vote.

Tourism Minister Elena Kountoura said she was one of the targets. “I have received photos of dead women, threatening phone calls, threatening messages on my cellphone and on the internet,” she said, urging her political opponents to condemn the threats.

Some protesters Thursday tried to march to the homes of two Syriza lawmakers in the northern towns of Katerini and Drama, but were stopped by police. Also late Wednesday, arsonists tried to set fire to the home of another Syriza lawmaker in the northern town of Yiannitsa. Nobody was injured, and the fire service said damage was minor.

The lawmaker, Theodora Tzakri, said her family had been at home at the time of the petrol bomb attack, which she blamed on far-right activists opposed to the deal with Macedonia. Tsipras’ government is expected to get support from a small number of opposition lawmakers in securing the 151 votes needed in the 300-member parliament for the agreement to be ratified.

He recently lost his parliamentary majority after his junior coalition partner, the right-wing Independent Greeks party, pulled out of the government due to objections over the name deal. The agreement will come into force once Greece ratifies it and then underwrites Macedonia’s NATO accession application.

Costas Kantouris reported from Evzones, Greece. Derek Gatopoulos and Elena Becatoros in Athens contributed.

Greek protesters angry over Macedonia deal clash with police

January 20, 2019

ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Protesters clashed with police outside Greece’s parliament during a rally that drew tens of thousands of people Sunday against the Greek-Macedonia name deal. At least 25 police officers were injured and seven people arrested, police said.

Demonstrators threw rocks, flares, firebombs, paint and other objects at riot police who responded with repeated volleys of tear gas. Some protesters jumped over a fence and tried to scale the steps, but officers chased them back down. One man draped in a Greek flag attacked police with a large stick, while others swung big flags on wooden poles and struck officers.

People attending the rally said large clouds of tear gas led many to abandon the protest. The square in front of parliament had nearly emptied out by early evening, though small groups of protesters continued to clashed with officers.

Some protesters also attacked photographers, injuring four, one of whom was hospitalized and also had his camera stolen. Greece’s parliament is expected to start a debate Monday on ratifying the deal and vote on it by Friday. Macedonia’s parliament has already approved it, agreeing that the country would go by the name North Macedonia.

Macedonia and Greece struck the deal in June to end a decades-long dispute over Macedonia’s name, which Greece says harbors territorial claims on its northern province of the same name. Protesters are against the deal because they believe that any use of the name Macedonia in the neighboring country’s name is a usurpation of ancient Greek heritage and implies territorial claims on Greece.

A statement from Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’ office blamed “extremist elements and members of Golden Dawn” – an extreme-right, anti-immigrant party – for the clashes on Sunday. “In our democracy, citizens’ free expression is an inalienable right, even for those who want to abolish democracy … It is also the duty and obligation of those of us who do believe not to allow them. Let’s isolate and condemn them,” the statement said.

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.”

Protest organizers said they hoped to attract more than 600,000 people. Police released an official estimate of 60,000. While organizers had said about 3,000 buses would travel from northern Greece alone, police said that a total of 327 had arrived from across the country Sunday afternoon.

Among the people who addressed the protest were former conservative Prime Minister Antonis Samaras, a member of the Mount Athos monastic community and a Greek-American former politician, Chris Spirou, once a member of New Hampshire’s House of Representatives.

In northern Greece, farmers temporarily blocked the highway leading to the Macedonian border in solidarity. It later reopened. About 300 anarchists staged a counter-demonstration Sunday. Police erected barriers to prevent clashes. After their otherwise peaceful rally, anarchists burned a car with official license plates.

Costas Kantouris contributed reporting from Thessaloniki.

Transport disruptions hit Greece as union protests cutbacks

November 28, 2018

ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Nationwide train and island ferry services have been suspended for a day in Greece, together with most Athens public transport, as the country’s biggest labor union strikes against persisting austerity measures.

Tuesday’s strike is being organized by the GSEE umbrella private sector union, which also includes many categories of civil servants. The GSEE and a smaller Communist labor union are also planning separate protest marches through Athens to the house of parliament.

The unions want the left-led government to scrap key income and pension cuts imposed at the demand of international creditors during Greece’s eight-year bailout program. The program formally ended in August but the measures are expected to remain in place for years to ensure Greece can keep its budgets balanced and pay off its bailout debts.

New protest in northern Greece against Macedonia name deal

June 27, 2018

THESSALONIKI, Greece (AP) — About 2,500 people, waving Greek flags and chanting “Macedonia is Greek,” marched through the northern Greek city of Thessaloniki Wednesday to protest a preliminary deal over neighboring Macedonia’s name.

The protest was organized by the same hard-line groups that staged large rallies earlier this year in Thessaloniki and Athens against a potential compromise in the negotiations that ended with an agreement this month.

A group of protesters threw paint at a Holocaust memorial, and another damaged a cafeteria. Similar protests have turned violent in the past. Under the deal — which will take months to be finalized — Macedonia will be renamed “North Macedonia.”

It would end a 27-year dispute that started after Greece objected to its northern neighbor’s name, saying it implied claims on the adjacent Greek province of Macedonia and to Greece’s ancient heritage.

Hardliners on both sides of the border oppose the agreement, saying it offers too big concessions to the other country.

Greece: Anti-austerity protesters eye post-bailout battle

April 25, 2018

ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Thousands of protesters took to the streets in Athens and other cities Wednesday, vowing to challenge ongoing bailout-related austerity measures after the rescue program ends in a few months.

Three successive demonstrations were held in Athens in opposition to the sale of power plants, planned pension cuts, and funding cuts at state-run hospitals. Left-wing Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’ government has promised lenders it will continue infrastructure privatization and draconian spending controls after the bailout program ends in late August, in exchange for more favorable repayment terms.

Greece’s post-bailout plans are due to be discussed on a visit to Athens by European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker on Thursday and at a meeting of eurozone finance ministers the following day in Sofia, Bulgaria.

Protest leaders say they were also making their own post-bailout plans. “We don’t owe our pensions to (bailout) creditors. We worked our whole life to get our pension, and we will keep fighting till we get back what they have taken from us,” pension protest organizer Dimos Koumbouris.

The government has already signed up to more across-the-board pension cuts in 2019, the main reason of Wednesday’s march by retirees. State-run hospital workers were also on strike, demanding more funding for healthcare and protesting shortages in the hospitals. And workers at the Public Power Corporation, protesting the prospective sale of lignite plants, dumped sacks of lignite on the steps near parliament.

Greece has depended on international bailouts since 2010, and has had to push through stringent spending cuts and tax hikes in return for the emergency loans. Government spokesman Dimitris Tzanakopoulos on Wednesday said there had been no discussion with creditors on whether austerity measures agree for 2019-20 could be amended, but he cited data reported this week showing that the government had beaten budget targets for three successive years.

“Greece’s fiscal adjustment has been completed,” Tzanakopoulos. “The lenders should take that into account.”

Srdjan Nedeljkovic in Athens contributed.

Thousands protest austerity reforms in Athens

April 25, 2018

ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Thousands of people have taken to the streets of Athens to protest bailout-related reforms, including the sale of power plants, potential pension cuts and staffing funding cuts for state-run hospitals.

At least three separate successive demonstrations were being held Wednesday, passing by parliament and the ministries of finance and labor. State-run hospital workers were also on strike, demanding more funding for healthcare and protesting shortages in the hospitals. Workers at the Public Power Corporation, protesting the prospective sale of lignite plants, dumped sacks of lignite on the steps near parliament. Pensioners were also marching to protest pension cuts.

Greece has depended on international bailouts since 2010, and has had to push through stringent spending cuts and tax hikes in return for the emergency loans.

Greeks rally in Athens to protest use of the name Macedonia

February 04, 2018

ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Well over 100,000 protesters from across Greece converged Sunday on Athens’ main square to protest a potential Greek compromise in a dispute with neighboring Macedonia over the former Yugoslav republic’s official name.

Hundreds of chartered buses brought protesters in from around the country to the Greek capital, while more people arrived on ferries from the islands. Traffic was blocked throughout the city center and three major subway stops were closed.

Chanting “Hands off Macedonia!” and “Macedonia belongs to Greece!” the protesters converged on Syntagma Square in front of parliament, many waving flags bearing the Star of Vergina, the emblem of the ancient Greek kingdom of Macedonia.

Police officials estimated the attendance at 140,000. Organizers, who claimed 1.5 million were at the rally, used a crane to raise a massive Greek flag over the square. “We are trying to show the politicians … that they must not give up the name ‘Macedonia’,” said 55-year-old protester Manos Georgiou.

In Skopje, a spokesman for the Macedonian government said he didn’t know whether his government would react to the rally. Macedonian opposition leader Hristijan Mickoski said in a TV interview that the rally hurt the prospects of a deal on the name issue.

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras was dismissive of the event. “The overwhelming majority of the Greek people…irrespective of their opinions (on the issue) agree that major foreign policy issues cannot be solved through fanaticism and intolerance,” he said in a statement.

Tsipras used the occasion to attack Greek opposition leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis and his fellow conservative, former Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras, for allegedly trying to use Sunday’s rally for their advantage and to paper over their own differing approaches.

About 700 left-wing and anarchist protesters set up a counter-demonstration nearby, bearing banners calling for Balkan unity. “Macedonia belongs to its bears” read one banner. Dozens of riot police were deployed to keep the two demonstrations separate.

Suspected far-right supporters attempted to attack the counter-demonstration, but were prevented by police who used stun grenades and tear gas to hold them back. The far-right side responded by throwing rocks at police.

There were also reports alleging that anarchists attacked a biker carrying a Greek flag and a person wearing a T-shirt commemorating the participation of Greek mercenaries in the massacres of Muslim civilians in Bosnia during the 1990s.

The name dispute broke out after Macedonia gained independence from Yugoslavia in 1991. The country is recognized by international institutions as the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, even though about 130 countries refer to it simply as Macedonia. Many Greeks refer to it by the name of its capital, Skopje.

Greece argues use of the name implies territorial claims on its own province of Macedonia, home of one of the most famous ancient Greeks, Alexander the Great. Officials in Skopje counter that their country has been known as Macedonia for a long time.

Composer and former minister Mikis Theodorakis, 92, the keynote speaker at the rally, repeated the controversial claim that Greece’s neighbor wants to expand into Greek territory. “Using the name Macedonia as a vehicle and twisting historical events to a ridiculous extent, they actually seek to expand their borders at the expense of ours,” Theodorakis said.

Rejecting any compromise on Greece’s part, Theodorakis called for a referendum on the issue. The squabble has prevented Macedonia from joining NATO, to which Greece already belongs. The left-led governments in both countries have pledged to seek a solution this year, and have been holding talks with U.N. negotiator Matthew Nimetz.

The most likely solution will be to add a modifier such as “new” or “north” to the republic’s name. But the proposals have triggered protests in both countries. The crowd at Sunday’s rally in Athens jeered when speakers mentioned Nimetz’s name.

“We’re expecting them to hear us,” protester Maria Iosifidou said of Greece’s politicians. “We don’t want Skopje to take the name …let them have another name.” About 100,000 people attended a similar protest last month in the northern Greek city of Thessaloniki, the capital of Greece’s province of Macedonia.

Raphael Kominis and Demetris Nellas in Athens and Konstantin Testorides, in Skopje, contributed to this report.

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