Greeks Marching as Storm Grows Over Tsipras's Macedonia Deal
(Bloomberg) -- Thousands of Greeks marched through the streets of Athens Sunday to protest a name deal with the neighboring Republic of Macedonia, as Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras steels himself for another showdown in parliament over the accord.
People gathered in the main Syntagma square opposite parliament, a site familiar to global television viewers for scenes of violent clashes in the first years of Greece’s debt crisis. Police estimated about 60,000 people had turned out by early afternoon.
Protesters, some wearing traditional army suits, chanted slogans like “Macedonia is Greek,” and asking the government to hold a referendum for the issue, while police used tear gas to keep demonstrators away from parliament.
Under the so-called Prespes agreement, Greece’s neighbor will change its name to Republic of North Macedonia in exchange for the Greeks ending opposition to its bid to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the European Union.
Many Greeks say Macedonia should only be used to refer to their country’s northern region of that name -- the birthplace of Alexander -- and see any use as an attempt to steal their cultural heritage. The country has been referred to as Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, abbreviated as FYROM, due to objections from Athens to its shorter name.
The government submitted the agreement to parliament on Saturday and Tsipras now needs to muster a majority to ratify the deal after barely surviving a confidence vote last week following coalition partner Panos Kammenos’s decision to quit in protest over the accord.
Although the prime minister likely has enough votes to prevail, that support could cost him in terms of popularity, as Greeks of all political stripes have strong feelings on the issue. Sunday’s protest is one of many across the country and the second in the capital in the past year.
The Prespes accord has already been approved by Macedonia, which finalized a constitutional reform to change its name on Jan. 10.
The premier could then shift his focus to the economy before Greece holds elections, due in October at the latest. Tsipras is hoping to pass some key measures he’s promised to voters, including a higher minimum wage, protections for homeowners, constitutional changes and a return to financial markets through the issue of a new five-year bond.
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