New Greek rallies announced in Macedonia name row

Athens (AFP) –


Greeks opposed to a compromise solution to a long-running dispute over the name of neighbouring Macedonia will protest in cities across northern Greece next week, organisers said Thursday.

"Protests are being organised in every major city (in northern Greece)... Our committee has undertaken to organise protests in 13 cities so far," organiser Michalis Patsikas told a news conference.

The rallies are set for next Wednesday, and additional venues will be announced Monday, Patsikas said, with the major northern city of Thessaloniki and the capital Athens so far not on the roster.

Zoran Zaev, prime minister of the former Yugoslav republic, said Wednesday that negotiations with Athens to resolve the 27-year-old dispute were in "the final stages".

"We agree on the foundations and principles of the accord," Zaev told journalists in Skopje.

The agreed name will almost certainly contain "Macedonia", an outcome ardently opposed by many Greeks because Greece has its own northern province called Macedonia -- the cradle of the ancient empire of Alexander the Great.

The dispute dates back to 1991, when Skopje declared independence from war-torn Yugoslavia.

Athens objects to its neighbour's constitutional name, Republic of Macedonia.

Greece wants the name change to be backed with a constitutional amendment and for it to be applied on the "erga omnes" ("towards all") legal principle, meaning universal use inside and outside Macedonia.

The dispute has slowed Macedonia's hopes of joining the European Union and NATO, as Greece can veto its membership bids.

Dozens of countries including the United States and Russia have already recognised the country as "Macedonia".

Names in discussion have included "New Macedonia" and "Upper Macedonia".

Scores of thousands demonstrated in Athens and Thessaloniki earlier this year against a compromise including the name "Macedonia".

Another Athens rally will be organised once the name accepted by the Greek government is revealed, said the protesters, who are backed by the Greek diaspora, cleric groups and the association of Greek mayors.

"It seems the government did not get the message (last time)," said Patsikas. "We are no rag-tag army."