Thursday 21 February 2019

Police officers injured in clashes over Greece-Macedonia name deal

Tens of thousands of people attended a rally outside the parliament in Athens.

A molotov cocktail explodes next to Greek riot police during clashes after a rally in Athens (Yorgos Karahalis/AP)
A molotov cocktail explodes next to Greek riot police during clashes after a rally in Athens (Yorgos Karahalis/AP)

By Demetris Nellas, Associated Press

Protesters clashed with police outside the parliament in Athens during a rally that drew tens of thousands of people against the Greece-Macedonia name deal.

At least 25 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.

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Demonstrators clash with Greek riot police (Thanassis Stavrakis/AP)

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 clash with officers.

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A demonstrator uses the Greek flag to battle riot police (Yorgos Karahalis/AP)

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 the country would go by the name North Macedonia.

Macedonia and Greece struck the deal in June to end a decades-long dispute over the name, which Greece says harbours territorial claims on its northern province of the same name.

Protesters are against the deal because they believe any use of the name Macedonia in the neighbouring country’s name is a usurpation of ancient Greek heritage and implies territorial claims on Greece.

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Greek riot police chases demonstrators (Thanassis Stavrakis/AP)

A statement from the office of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras blamed “extremist elements and members of Golden Dawn” – an extreme-right, anti-immigrant party – for the clashes on Sunday.

It said: “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.”

Police said in a statement that officers had been attacked by “organised 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 organisers said they hoped to attract more than 600,000 people. Police released an official estimate of 60,000.

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Protesters wave Greek flags outside parliament in Athens (Thanassis Stavrakis/AP)

While organisers said about 3,000 buses would travel from northern Greece alone, police said 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, who was 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 on Sunday. Police erected barriers to prevent clashes.

After their otherwise peaceful rally, anarchists burned a car with official licence plates.

Press Association

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