More than 50,000 Greeks protest over Macedonia name row

People holding Greek flags take part in a demonstration to protest against the use of the name Macedonia following the developments on the issue with the neighbor country, in Thessaloniki on January 21, 2018. (AFP)
Updated 21 January 2018
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More than 50,000 Greeks protest over Macedonia name row

THESSALONIKI, Greece: More than 50,000 protesters massed in the streets of northern Greece’s biggest city Thessaloniki on Sunday, police said, in a long-running row between Athens and Skopje over the use of the name Macedonia.
Athens argues that the name Macedonia suggests that Skopje has territorial claims to the northern Greek region of the same name, of which Thessaloniki is the capital.
The region was the center of Alexander the Great’s ancient kingdom, a source of Greek pride.
Hard-line clerics, far-right leaders and Greek diaspora groups had called for Sunday’s rallies, with the turnout exceeding media estimates of 30,000.
Gathered around the statue of Alexander the Great in Thessaloniki were members of the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party and local clergy.
Representatives from the main opposition party, New Democracy, were also present despite a tacit order from its liberal-minded leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis to boycott the protests.
Cretans in traditional costumes who traveled from the southern island with their horses, as well as people from northern Greece wearing costumes from the Macedonian wars era a century ago, crowded at the White Tower on the Thessaloniki waterfront from early in the morning.
Greece and Macedonia returned to the United Nations last week hoping to reach a compromise that could end the 27-year dispute over the former Yugoslav republic’s name.
Greece’s objections to the use of the name Macedonia since the Balkan country’s independence in 1991 have hampered the tiny nation’s bid to join the European Union and NATO.
“We demand that the term Macedonia isn’t included in the name which they will agree on. This is not negotiable,” said Leonardou, a 59-year-old writer from Thessaloniki, warning that if the Greek government does otherwise “there will be an answer from the Greek people.”
The UN negotiator Matthew Nimetz — a 24-year veteran on the issue — said last week that he was “very hopeful” that a solution was within reach.
Despite the nationalist fervor that is also being fed by Golden Dawn, Greeks appear to be less militant on the issue than in the past.
In 1992, more than one million people — 10 percent of the population — joined a rally in Thessaloniki to proclaim that “Macedonia is Greek.”
According to a survey conducted for Greek radio station 24/7 by the Alco polling group, 63 percent of respondents said they thought it was in Greece’s best interests to seek a mutually acceptable solution at the UN talks.
And the Greek Orthodox Church, which is traditionally opposed to the use of the term Macedonia from Skopje and led the 1992 rally, appears to have distanced itself from Sunday’s events.
Its leader Archbishop Ieronymos on Thursday reportedly told Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras that “national unity is needed... (not) protests and shouts.”
Tsipras, who is expected to meet with his Macedonian counterpart Zoran Zaev in Davos next week, said in an interview published on Sunday: “If there is an opportunity for a solution, it would be a national stupidity not to make good use of it.”
However, he told Ethnos newspaper that he could understand “the concerns and sensitivities” of the Greeks of the north.
Macedonia is known as the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) at the United Nations, although the Security Council acknowledged this was a provisional name when it agreed to membership.
If a deal is reached at the UN talks, it will be put before Greek parliament for approval, with the government expecting the compromise name to be approved despite opposition within some parties.
According to Macedonian media, Nimetz has proposed five alternatives all containing the name.


Taliban warn Kabul residents to ‘keep away’ ahead of attacks

Updated 21 May 2018
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Taliban warn Kabul residents to ‘keep away’ ahead of attacks

  • The militant group has issued such warnings to civilians before, including during a failed attempt to take the western city of Farah last week
  • The Taliban are stepping up their Al Khandaq spring offensive in an apparent rejection of calls for the militants to take up the Afghan government’s February offer of peace talks.

KABUL: The Taliban warned Kabul residents Monday to avoid “military centers” in the heavily fortified city, saying they are planning more attacks in the capital where civilians have long taken the brunt of the casualties.
The militant group has issued such warnings to civilians before, including during a failed attempt to take the western city of Farah last week, but it is believed to be the first time they have singled out Kabul.
The warning comes after the United Nations said the war-weary capital — where the Daesh group is also stepping up its attacks — is already the deadliest place in the country for civilians.
The Taliban said they are planning more attacks on “the enemy’s military and intelligence centers” as part of an annual spring offensive.
“Therefore, to avoid civilian casualties and only cause damage to enemy military, we are asking Kabul residents to keep away... We don’t want even a single innocent civilian to be killed,” a statement published online said.
The group did not define what was meant by “military and intelligence centers.”
Such targets are difficult to avoid given the overcrowded city is the heart of the country’s intelligence, government and military operations and also plagued by traffic jams due to ubiquitous checkpoints and barriers.
“Any attacks or explosions, even a small one, would cause civilian casualties because military installations are located in the center of the city near people’s houses,” political and military analyst Nik Mohammad told AFP.
The Taliban’s statement was pure propaganda, he said, adding that if they fight in the cities “you will definitely kill civilians, there is no way to avoid that.”
The Taliban are stepping up their Al Khandaq spring offensive in an apparent rejection of calls for the militants to take up the Afghan government’s February offer of peace talks.
The group portrays itself as taking care to avoid civilian casualties, but has claimed attacks such as a massive bomb hidden in an ambulance in January which detonated in a crowded street and killed more than 100 people.
The extremists’ chilling ability to hit at the heart of the country despite increased police checks has spotlighted security and intelligence failures, with the government of President Ashraf Ghani coming under increasing pressure to protect civilians.
Kabul — overflowing with returning refugees and internally displaced Afghans fleeing war and seeking jobs and security — has been the deadliest place in the country for civilians for months.
Figures from the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) show that Afghan civilians were deliberately targeted in militant attacks and suicide blasts in 2017.
The capital is a top target, with 16 percent of all casualties during the year — a total of 1,831 people killed and wounded — occurring in Kabul alone. The UN has warned that 2018 could be even deadlier.
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