Greek PM hails new ties during landmark N. Macedonia visit

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, left, embraces his North Macedonian counterpart Zoran Zaev, during a joint news conference in Skopje, North Macedonia. (AP Photo)
Updated 02 April 2019

Greek PM hails new ties during landmark N. Macedonia visit

  • It was the first official visit by a Greek prime minister since the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia declared independence in 1991
  • With the name issue behind them, the two countries are now exploring the potential of stronger economic ties

SKOPJE, Republic of North Macedonia: Greece’s prime minister was greeted with hugs and selfies on Tuesday during his landmark visit to newly renamed North Macedonia, where the neighbors celebrated a new start after resolving their decades-long identity row.
The one-day trip came a little more than a month after Alexis Tsipras and counterpart Zoran Zaev finalized a deal that added “North” to Macedonia’s name to distinguish it from a bordering province in Greece.
“We are starting to cover lost ground to build a deep friendship, not only between our governments, but especially between our people,” Tsipras said.
It was the first official visit by a Greek prime minister since the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia declared independence in 1991, kicking off the name dispute that roiled diplomatic ties amid dogged wrestling over the name Macedonia and its cultural heritage.
In the end, Skopje agreed to the change in exchange for assurance that Athens would stop thwarting its efforts to join NATO and the European Union.
“Today our Republic for the first time in its history is a hosting an official visit of a Greek Prime Minister,” Zaev noted during a joint press conference, after he welcomed Tsipras with a warm embrace outside the government building and raised his mobile phone for a picture.
With the name issue behind them, the two countries are now exploring the potential of stronger economic ties, with both leaders to attend a business forum later in the day.
Tsipras, who brought ten ministers and dozens of business leaders with him, said he believed critics of the deal would be swayed once new financial, infrastructure and tourism links kick in.
“Gradually everyone will start to understand, both the Greek people and the citizens of North Macedonia, the damage that has been done over the past years when we were unable to sit together and try to solve our disputes,” he said.
After the initial name accord was inked in June 2018, congratulations poured in from around the globe for the two young premiers, who fought risky domestic political battles to push the deal through, enraging nationalists on both sides of the border.
Even before the deal was finalized, they were nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize by 2015 winner Wided Bouchamaoui of Tunisia.
But there is still opposition to the deal among nationalist groups in both countries.
In Greece, some are angry that the deal allows its northern neighbor to continue referring to its people and language as Macedonian.
Disgruntlement is also palpable in Skopje among those who feel the name-change is an embarrassing concession and that the end-goal — entry into the EU — may never materialize.
North Macedonia is in the process of joining NATO and hoping the EU will open accession talks in June.
Yet the timeline for the latter could slide, with appetite for enlargement shrinking considerably among several members of the bloc, particularly France.
Meanwhile, in his own protest, the Balkan state’s President Gjorge Ivanov has been refusing to sign bills from parliament ever since North Macedonia became the official name.
The two-term president is to be replaced following elections later this month.


Anti-government protesters block roads in Pakistan as unrest mounts

Updated 14 November 2019

Anti-government protesters block roads in Pakistan as unrest mounts

  • Tens of thousands of demonstrators joined a sit-in in Islamabad on Oct. 31 and camped there for about two weeks
  • Firebrand cleric leading the protests called for nationwide demonstrations

ISLAMABAD: Anti-government protesters in Pakistan blocked major roads and highways across the country on Thursday in a bid to force Prime Minister Imran Khan to resign.
The demonstrators — led by the leader of opposition party Jamiat-e-Ulema-e-Islam (JUI-F), the firebrand cleric Maulana Fazlur Rehman — have taken to the streets as the start of their “Plan B” to topple the government and ensure a general election after failing to push Khan out through a fortnight-long sit-in in Islamabad, which ended on Wednesday.
That same day, Rehman told his party workers to spread their protests to other parts of the country.
“This protest will continue not for a day but for a month, if our leadership instructs,” said JUI-F Secretary-General, Maulana Nasir Mehmood, to a group of protesters who blocked the country’s main Karakoram Highway — an important trade route between Pakistan and China that also connects the country’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province with its northern areas.
The JUI-F protesters also blocked other key routes in KP and a major highway connecting the provinces of Sindh and Balochistan. The party’s Balochistan chapter also announced its intention to block the highway connecting Pakistan to neighboring Iran.
Tens of thousands of demonstrators joined the sit-in in Islamabad on Oct. 31 and camped there for about two weeks, demanding the prime minister’s resignation and fresh polls in the country following allegations of electoral fraud last year and the mismanagement of Pakistan’s economy. The government denies both charges.
Rehman is a veteran politician who was a member of the National Assembly for 20 years. He enjoys support in religious circles across the country. His party has yet to share a detailed plan regarding which roads will be closed when, or how long this new phase of protests will continue.
The JUI-F and other opposition parties have been trying to capitalize on the anger and frustration of the public against the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf ruling party, which came to power last year promising 10 million new jobs for the youth, 5 million low-cost houses, and economic reforms to benefit the middle class.
Since then, Pakistan’s economy has nosedived, witnessing double-digit inflation and rampant unemployment. The government signed a $6-billion bailout deal with the International Monetary Fund to stave off a balance-of-payments crisis.
“Prime Minister Imran Khan has stabilized the deteriorating economy, and Maulana Fazlur Rehman ‘Plan B’ will fail like his ‘Plan A,’” Firdous Ashiq Awan, special assistant to the prime minister on information and broadcasting, said in a statement to the press.

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