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article imageGreek demo on Macedonia will be 'majestic': organisers

By John HADOULIS (AFP)     Feb 3, 2018 in Politics

Hundreds of thousands of Greeks are expected to join an Athens rally on Sunday to urge the government not to compromise in the festering name row with neighbouring Macedonia, organisers said.

Renowned Zorba the Greek composer Mikis Theodorakis, is expected to be the keynote speaker despite battling health issues at 92.

"It will be majestic. This has never happened before," rally spokesman Michalis Patsikas told reporters midweek.

"It will send a very strong message both inside and outside Greece," added Patsikas, an olive farmer from northern Greece.

The protest -- the second in a fortnight -- has been organised and funded by Greek diaspora groups, with the support of retired officer associations, Greek Macedonian cultural unions and church groups.

The organisers say they expect delegations from more than 300 organisations and around a million participants on central Syntagma Square.

- Loud as possible -

"The square alone can accommodate 300,000-400,000 people. We must satisfy them with good sound...we will make it as loud as we can," Miltiadis Kotzageridis, a pilot who is among the organisers, told reporters.

A delegation of senior bishops from the Church of Greece is also expected to address the crowd.

Two weeks ago, tens of thousands gathered in Thessaloniki in an inaugural mass protest over the name row. Police at the time estimated the turnout at over 90,000.

Organisers claimed at least 400,000 attended.

"(Turnout) will be at least triple that of Thessaloniki. There are no tickets left for people to come from Thessaloniki and Crete," Patsikas said.

The dispute has remained unresolved since the former Yugoslav republic's independence in 1991.

Greece considers the name "Macedonia" to be part of its own cultural heritage, as it is also the name of a historic Greek province that was the core of Alexander the Great's ancient empire.

Athens thus seeks guarantees that the use of the name by its neighbour implies no claim to parts of its own territory.

The government has accused far-right hardliners and the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party of trying to exploit popular feeling on the issue.

Georgia Bitakou, a journalist and former fight promoter, insists the rally is non-political.

"We are all patriots. There are no parties, no colours. Our only goal is to give a mandate to (state) representatives," she said.

However, several opposition politicians have indicated they will attend to also reject the government's tax-hiking policies.

The government has said the rallies will not affect its determination to solve the longstanding dispute in order to enhance stability in the often tense Balkan region.

United Nations mediator Matthew Nimetz has proposed four alternative names to try to resolve the iss...
United Nations mediator Matthew Nimetz has proposed four alternative names to try to resolve the issue
Robert ATANASOVSKI, AFP/File

"Not having a solution undermines our national interest," Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said last week.

Because of Greece's objections, Macedonia in 1993 joined the United Nations as the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM).

To break the deadlock, longterm UN mediator Matthew Nimetz has now proposed four alternative names in Macedonian, including "Republika Nova Makedonija" or the "Republic of New Macedonia".

A resolution of the issue is needed before Macedonia can join NATO or the EU.

Greece in 2008 threatened to veto Macedonia's NATO entry. Skopje subsequently took the issue to the International Court of Justice, which said Athens had been wrong to block its land-locked neighbour's aspirations.

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