ATHENS – Hundreds of thousands of people of all ages came out in protest in the Greek capital city of Athens on Sunday over a long-running dispute with a neighboring country whose official name includes the word “Macedonia.”
Protesters flocked to Athens from all over the country, on buses chartered by local bishops and mayors, in cars and on public transport.
Amid shouts of “Macedonia is Greece, Greece is Macedonia” and “Hands off Macedonia,” the demonstrators expressed their rejection of any possible solution to a dispute with the government of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia that involved using the word “Macedonia,” a term they see belonging exclusively to the northern Greek region of the same name.
Scores of people were seen on Sunday brandishing national flags outside the Greek parliament building in Syntagma Square.
Among those present at the rally were the leader the far-right Golden Dawn party, Nikolaos Michaloliakos, and a former conservative prime minister, Andonis Samaras, as well as bishops and mayors.
Speaking to the crowd gathered at the rally, Greek composer Mikis Theodorakis, 92, urged Prime Minister Alexis Tspiras not to be afraid of the people and to arrange a plebiscite before plowing on with any agreement with FYROM, which he warned was seeking to expand its territory to the detriment of Greece.
Police put the number of participants at about 140,000, while the organizers estimated 1.5 million had turned out for the action.
Street vendors took advantage of the occasion, selling national flags and others featuring the double-headed eagle – a symbol of the Byzantine Empire – at prices fluctuating between €1-€10 ($1.2-$12.46).
Since FYROM declared its independence in 1991, Greece has been opposed to its official name.