Protesters are arriving in central Athens for a massive rally Sunday to protest a potential Greek compromise in a dispute with neighboring Macedonia over the former Yugoslav republic’s official name.
Hundreds of buses were chartered to bring protesters from across the country to the Greek capital, while more were arriving on ferries from the islands. Police were halting traffic along major avenues in the city center, while vendors were setting up stalls selling Greek and Byzantine flags.
The more than quarter-century dispute broke out after Macedonia gained independence from Yugoslavia in 1991. Greece argues use of the name implies territorial claims on its own province of Macedonia, home of one of the most famous ancient Greeks, Alexander the Great.
Officials in Skopje counter that their country has been known as Macedonia for a long time.
The squabble has prevented Macedonia from joining NATO, to which Greece already belongs. The left-led governments in both countries have pledged to seek a solution this year, and have been holding talks with UN negotiator Matthew Nimetz, who has travelled to both countries in recent days.
The most likely solution will be to add a modifier such as “new” or “north” to the republic’s name. But the proposals have triggered protests in both countries, with some critics viewing the possible deal as a national humiliation.
Organizers of Sunday’s rally hope to draw 1 million people.
About 100,000 people attended a similar protest last month in the northern Greek city of Thessaloniki, the capital of Greece’s province of Macedonia.