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Posts tagged ‘Lone Land of Macedonia’

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.


Politicians in Greece, Macedonia meet over name issue

January 28, 2018

ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Political leaders in both Greece and Macedonia met Saturday to discuss ways to resolve a longstanding dispute over the name of Greece’s northern neighbor. The meetings come days before United Nations envoy Matthew Nimetz will visit the countries to seek a compromise. Nimetz is expected in Greece on Monday and Tuesday before going to Macedonia the following two days.

Greece has disputed Macedonia’s right to call itself by a name shared with its own northern province of Macedonia ever since the Republic of Macedonia became independent in 1991. It has blocked Macedonia’s accession to NATO.

Greece contends that the use of the name, along with certain clauses in Macedonia’s constitution, imply territorial designs on Greece, as well as the perceived appropriation of Greek symbols and names, such that of Alexander the Great, the most famous ruler of the Ancient Greek Kingdom of Macedonia.

Although recognized as the Republic of Macedonia by the majority of countries, Macedonia sits in the U.N. as The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia in deference to Greek objections. Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras met Saturday with the leaders of all opposition parliamentary parties except for far-right Golden Dawn. Although none gave him carte blanche for negotiations, he focused his criticism on opposition leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis.

Tsipras described Mitsotakis as vacillating and too influenced by “extremists” within his party. The Greek premier said he is prepared to accept a “composite name … with a geographical or historical reference” that would include the name Macedonia. This could mean a name such as Upper, or New, Macedonia.

“We must not listen to nationalist outbursts or fanatical shouts,” Tsipras said in a televised speech after the meetings were over. He nonetheless acknowledged that “there is still a long way” before an agreement is achieved.

Besides the opposition, the leftist Tsipras has to contend with his own defense minister and leader of the right-wing, populist Independent Greeks, who has called for a referendum on the name issue and suggested the neighboring country call itself “Vardarska.”

A protest against allowing the name “Macedonia” to be used by Greece’s neighbor is scheduled for Feb. 4 in Athens. It follows a similar one in Thessaloniki, capital of Greece’s Macedonia province, which, according to police, was attended by 90,000 people.

In Macedonia, a “coordination meeting” under President Gjorge Ivanov went late into the night Saturday and no statements have been issued. It was attended by Prime Minister Zoran Zaev, Foreign Minister Nikola Dimitrov, and opposition leaders Hristijan Mickovski, the new leader of the conservative VMRO-DPMNE party, and Ali Ahmeti, head of the Albanian-minority Democratic Union for Integration.

There was a protest outside the meeting. The protesters object to Zaev’s proposal to rename Macedonia’s main highway and airport, both named for Alexander the Great, and demand termination of negotiations on the name issue.

Testorides reported from Skopje.

Macedonia’s Zaev set to warm up ties with Greece, Kosovo

December 12, 2017

PRISTINA, Kosovo (AP) — Macedonia’s prime minister reiterated his will on Tuesday to reach a solution with Greece following more than two decades of disputes over his country’s name. Zoran Zaev said Macedonian and Greek officials were working “to reconfirm their will of resuming essential talks … to reach a solution.”

Zaev, in power since spring, has vowed to improve relations with Greece, which has opposed Macedonia’s name since it declared it and won recognition by the United Nations after Yugoslavia’s breakup in 1991.

Greece says Macedonia’s name harbors territorial pretensions on Greece’s northern province of the same name. Greece blocked Macedonia from joining NATO in 2008 under its provisional name. In Kosovo on the first-ever visit by a Macedonian prime minister to its neighbor, Zaev also vowed to warm ties there.

He said Skopje would acquiesce to Kosovar demands for a new, international investigation into a 2015 attack by militants from Kosovo in the northern Macedonian town of Kumanovo. Eight police officers and 10 militants were killed in fighting that was hotly disputed by both sides and was the worst outbreak of violence in Macedonia since a nine-month insurgency by fighters from its Kosovar minority in 2001.

“Such an issue is in the interest of our cooperation and that should not remain an obstacle to our ties,” Zaev said at a news conference with his host counterpart Ramush Haradinaj. Macedonia has a large ethnic Albanian minority — which is the main single ethnic group in neighboring Kosovo and also Albania — that regularly plays an important part in creating governing coalitions.

“We share the same aspirations for membership into the European Union and NATO because the future of the whole Western Balkans is in EU and NATO,” said Zaev.

Associated Press writer Llazar Semini contributed from Tirana, Albania.

Macedonia local elections to test new left-wing government

October 13, 2017

SKOPJE, Macedonia (AP) — Macedonia’s left-wing government faces a strong test in this weekend’s municipal elections, five months after it came to power during an acute political crisis following a decade of conservative rule.

The first round of the vote is scheduled for Sunday, with over 1.8 million registered voters choosing local officials in the capital, Skopje, and another 80 municipalities. The re-run is on Oct. 29. Opinion polls show a slight advantage for the governing Social Democrats, particularly in the capital, Skopje, where the party’s candidate mayor is 2.6 percent ahead of the conservative incumbent.

The conservative VMRO-DPMNE main opposition party is seeking to defend its dominance on a local level. It won 56 of 81 municipalities in the last elections in 2013 against the Social Democrats’ four. Prime Minister Zoran Zaev has sought to get Macedonia to join NATO and the European Union, and to see through criminal investigations into conservative officials over a 2015 wiretapping scandal.

Zaev has urged voters to “free the country from the remnants of the VMRO-DPMNE criminal regime.” Zaev’s ascent followed a protracted political crisis triggered by the wiretaps, for which he blamed the then-ruling conservatives. They denied wrongdoing and blamed unspecified foreign spies.

On the streets of Skopje, many voters seem disenchanted with politics. “After every election, I’m poorer and more miserable. It is just a show for politicians and their greed for more power and money,” 36-year-old dentistry technician Dijana Stojanovska told the Associated Press.

VMRO-DPMNE campaigning has focused on what it calls “national issues,” claiming that the Social Democrats plan to change the country’s name — over which Macedonia has a decades-long dispute with southern neighbor Greece — to join NATO and the EU.

VMRO-DPMNE also accuses Zaev’s government of treason, for proposing to make Albanian Macedonia’s second official language, and signing a friendship pact with neighboring Bulgaria. Albanians form a quarter of Macedonia’s 2.1-million population, and ethnic tensions boiled over in 2001 when an ethnic Albanian uprising brought the country to the brink of civil war.

The local elections were delayed for five months due to a new crisis after VMRO DPMNE came first in parliamentary elections last year but was unable to secure a governing majority. Second-placed Zaev was eventually able to form a coalition with the ethnic Albanian DUI party.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe has over 300 observers to monitor the voting. Preliminary results are expected Monday.

Macedonia’s Zaev wins confidence vote to form new government

June 01, 2017

SKOPJE, Macedonia (AP) — Macedonia’s parliament elected a new center-left coalition government led by former opposition leader Zoran Zaev late Wednesday, ending a six-month political stalemate. Lawmakers voted 62-44 just before midnight to confirm a 26-member Cabinet proposed by Zaev, who leads the Social Democrat party. Five lawmakers abstained and nine were absent.

Zaev, 42, was sworn in as prime minister by the parliament speaker immediately after the vote. The businessman and former mayor of Strumica formed an alliance with two small ethnic Albanian parties to control 62 of parliament’s 120 seats, after his party finished second in December elections that produced a hung parliament. Former Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski’s conservative party won the elections but fell short of a parliamentary majority.

About a quarter of Macedonia’s population is ethnic Albanian, and inter-ethnic tensions brought the former Yugoslav republic close to civil war in 2001. “The concept of one society for all is the future of Macedonia,” Zaev said Wednesday, rejecting opponents’ criticism that his pledge to consider enhancing the Albanian minority’s standing would undermine Macedonia’s sovereignty.

Under the coalition deal, nine Cabinet portfolios are held by ethnic Albanians, including the economy, justice and European integration posts. The country has been roiled by political crisis since early 2015, sparked by a wiretapping scandal that left Zaev’s party and Gruevski’s formerly governing VMRO-DPMNE conservatives with irreconcilable differences.

Zaev has pledged to focus on the economy, strengthening public institutions and joining the European Union and NATO. He wants to start negotiations with the EU and NATO as soon as possible. Macedonia was granted EU candidate status in 2005. Neighboring Greece has blocked Macedonia’s accession to NATO due to a long-running dispute regarding Macedonia’s name, and the Greeks also have raised objections to its joining the EU.

Zaev tapped Nikola Dimitrov, a former negotiator with Greece, as foreign minister. Radmila Sekjerinska, a former minister for European integration, was named to head the defense ministry. President Gjorge Ivanov earlier had refused to give the mandate to Zaev, accusing him of endangering Macedonia’s unity and sovereignty.

The crisis threatened to re-ignite inter-ethnic conflict, with ethnic Albanian parties demanding as a condition for joining any new government that Albanian be designated a second official language. A month of protests followed across the country.

A mob stormed the parliament building last month after disagreements about the election of a new parliament speaker, leaving more than 100 people injured.

Macedonia’s head seeks emergency talks after parliament riot

April 28, 2017

SKOPJE, Macedonia (AP) — Macedonia’s president called an emergency meeting of political leaders Friday, hours after demonstrators — mostly supporters of the country’s dominant conservative party — invaded parliament and assaulted opposition lawmakers.

Police said 77 people, including opposition Social Democrat leader Zoran Zaev, the head of a small ethnic Albanian opposition party and 22 police, were injured in the overnight riot when demonstrators stormed the legislature and attacked lawmakers to protest the election of a new speaker despite a months-old deadlock in efforts to form a new government.

It was unclear whether opposition party leaders would heed President Gjorge Ivanov’s call for a meeting to defuse the tension. The European Union condemned the violence, and said that the cornerstones of democracy should be respected.

Clashes lasted for hours Thursday night, with police initially doing little to stop the invasion. Eventually, they used stun grenades to evacuate the building, and free lawmakers and journalists trapped inside.

Macedonia has been gripped by a deep political crisis for more than two years, and repeated efforts — including international mediation — have failed to improve things. The country has been without a government since elections in December failed to give any party a governing majority.

EU foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini said Friday that “violence is unacceptable, even more so when it happens in the house of democracy.” Mogherini, attending a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Malta, called the incident a “serious crisis that can be dangerous.”

Lawmakers attacked as protesters storm Macedonian parliament

April 28, 2017

SKOPJE, Macedonia (AP) — Chaos swept into Macedonia’s parliament Thursday as demonstrators stormed the building and attacked lawmakers to protest the election of a new speaker despite a months-old deadlock in efforts to form a new government.

Clashes over several hours injured 77 people, including 22 police officers and several lawmakers, authorities said. Neighboring countries along with the European Union and United States expressed concern at the small Balkan nation’s escalating political crisis.

Dozens of protesters, some of them masked, broke through a police cordon after the opposition Social Democrats and parties representing Macedonia’s ethnic Albanian minority voted to name a new parliament speaker.

Many of the protesters were supporters of former prime minister Nikola Gruevski, whose conservative party won elections in December but didn’t get enough votes to form a government on its own. He has been struggling to put together a coalition government and his supporters have been holding nightly street rallies for two months across the country to protest the political situation.

Shouting, hurling chairs and grabbing camera tripods abandoned by startled journalists, the protesters attacked lawmakers, including opposition leader Zoran Zaev, who was seen bleeding from the forehead. TV footage showed a bloodied Zaev and other Social Democrat lawmakers surrounded by protesters waving national flags, shouting “traitors” and refusing to allow them to leave.

A tense standoff lasted several hours, and hundreds of protesters swarmed through the parliament building. Police said 30 lawmakers and a number of journalists who had been trapped inside were eventually evacuated safely.

After being initially overwhelmed, police fired flash grenades and clashed with protesters, expelling them from the building. Lawmaker Ziadin Sela, who heads a small ethnic Albanian party, was the most seriously injured, police said.

Macedonian President Gjorge Ivanov went on television to appeal for calm and “for reasonable and responsible behavior.” Speaking in a brief address to the nation, Ivanov said he had summoned the leaders of the country’s main political parties for a meeting Friday.

The U.S. Embassy in Macedonia and senior European Union officials condemned the violence, while neighboring Greece warned that Macedonia might be “sliding into deep political crisis.” Zaev, 42, was later cheered by hundreds of supporters when he appeared with several lawmakers from his party outside the Social Democratic headquarters in the capital of Skopje.

In a statement, the party accused rival conservatives of inciting the violence and stirring “hatred and division” among the Macedonian people. Macedonia has been without a government since the elections. Coalition talks broke down over ethnic Albanian demands that Albanian be recognized as an official second language. One-fourth of Macedonia’s population is ethnic Albanian.

Amid the coalition negotiations, the Assembly of the Republic of Macedonia, as the Balkan nation’s parliament is known, has been deadlocked for three weeks over electing a new speaker. Zaev suggested early in the day that a speaker could be elected outside normal procedures, an idea immediately rejected by the prime minister’s party as an attempted coup. Zaev went ahead with the vote, and a majority in parliament elected Talat Xhaferi, a former defense minister and member of the ethnic Albanian Democratic Union for Integration. Protesters exploded in anger and fought their way into the building.

Despite the return of calm, a small group of demonstrators ignored instructions by police to leave the area early Friday and they set up tents in a small park near parliament.

Associated Press writers Llazar Semini in Tirana, Albania, and Derek Gatopoulos and Elena Becatoros in Athens, Greece, contributed to this report.

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