Thousands of people have demonstrated in Greece’s main cities and on the country’s northern border against a historic deal to end a decades-long name dispute with Macedonia.
Police said more than 2,000 protesters gathered outside parliament in Athens on Thursday, as legislators debated the agreement reached between the two countries last year which would see the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) renaming itself North Macedonia, and Greece lifting objections to its northern neighbour joining NATO and the European Union.
The vote in the Greek parliament to approve the name change was expected to take place on Thursday evening, but was pushed to Friday amid heated debates.
“There is an unprecedented high number of MPs who want to speak,” Nikos Voutsis, the parliamentary speaker, said, adding the vote is now scheduled to take place on Friday at 12:30 GMT.
According to Voutsis, close to 230 MPs wanted to have their say before the vote would take place.
Most are given six minutes to speak, a rule that was routinely broken in the highly charged session which opened on Wednesday.
The change in name would put to rest a 27-year dispute over the name Macedonia after ratifying the Prespes Agreement reached last June between the two countries.
Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras seems to have secured the support of at least 151 deputies in the 300-seat house to get the deal approved, but opinion polls have shown most Greeks oppose the term “Macedonia” being used in any agreement.
The Greek population fears the use of the word Macedonia could lead to territorial claims over Greece’s eponymous northern province and an appropriation of Greek cultural heritage, allegations which Macedonia has denied.
Around 4,500 Communist Party supporters protested against the agreement in another part of Athens, while hundreds of people in northern Greece blocked the main border crossing to Macedonia for hours.
Another 3,000 were protesting the deal during two separate marches in Thessaloniki, Greece’s second biggest city, while similar gatherings were held in other northern towns.
“We are going to win, we are going win this battle to keep our morality because this is a fight, we are currently fighting and we will defeat them no matter what they vote inside,” said Giannis Orfanos, a protester.
“I’m here to protest against that agreement they are debating inside. It’s very simple: They are disregarding our will, our history, our voices and we have come to protest peacefully,” said Andonis Phiamegos, another protester.
On Sunday, tens of thousands rallied against the deal in Athens and members of the Greek Communist Party (KKE) unfurled banners on the walls of Acropolis.
The accord was ratified by Macedonia’s parliament earlier this month, when 81 MPs voted in favour of the name change in the 120-seat chamber, securing the required two-thirds majority.