Greek MPs to vote on Macedonia deal amid political turmoil

ATHENS: The Greek parliament is expected to vote Thursday on a deal to change Macedonia’s name to the Republic of North Macedonia amid deep social division and a crisis in centrist political parties.

Lawmakers will debate the draft name-change deal between Greece and Macedonia on Wednesday and Thursday before the vote, the Athens News Agency said Monday.

Macedonia’s parliament backed a constitutional revision to change the country’s name 10 days ago. But for the deal to go through, the change must also be approved by Greek MPs.

Macedonia is a former Yugoslav republic, but for most Greeks it is the name of their history-rich northern province made famous by Alexander the Great’s conquests.

On Monday, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras shared a video clip on Twitter in a bid to convince the sceptics of the benefits of the Prespes Agreement he negotiated with his Macedonian counterpart Zoran Zaev.

“The Prespes Agreement is an historic step not only for our two countries, but also for the whole region, for all of Europe,“ he wrote in the accompanying tweet.

Clashes in Athens

On Sunday, clashes between police and masked protesters left several injured in Athens as tens of thousands demonstrated against the name change.

According to the government, “the incidents were provoked by extremists, members of the Golden Dawn, who attempted to enter parliament”.

Seven people arrested on Sunday have been charged, including two Turkish men and a German woman.

Seventeen civilians including journalists and 25 policemen were injured.

The OSCE media freedom representative Harlem Desir on Monday condemned the attacks which appeared to deliberately target journalists.

“I strongly condemn these terrible attacks, and urge the Greek authorities to swiftly investigate them,“ Desir said in a statement.

“Journalists must be able to work freely and to cover protests and events of public interest without fear.”

The OSCE said one group had recognised and attacked foreign correspondent Thomas Iacobi, co-author of a documentary about the far-right Golden Dawn.

They hit him in the face, forced him to delete files from his mobile and destroyed his audio equipment before the police could intervene, the OSCE said.

Other photographers and camera operators were also targeted, and their equipment smashed or stolen.

Among them, photojournalist Kostis Ntantamis suffered serious head injuries and had his equipment stolen, the OSCE said.

More coalition resignations

A wide range of Greek political parties, from the far-right Golden Dawn to the Socialists, oppose the accord to rename Macedonia.

But it could nonetheless be approved by the required 151 lawmakers in the 300-seat parliament.

Tsipras’ leftist Syriza party has 145 MPs and enough independent members have pledged their support to secure approval.

He urged “progressive forces” to support the name change in an interview with Avghi, a daily published by Syriza.

Tsipras’ ruling coalition fell apart over the deal a week ago, but he then narrowly won a confidence vote, setting the stage for the name-change vote in parliament.

The issue threatens to reshape the centrist political scene in Greece.

On Monday, the centrist pro-EU To Potami party lost its status as a parliamentary group after the resignation of parliament spokesman Giorgos Amyras, who opposes the agreement.

“I cannot continue to be a member of Potami parliamentary group since I have a different opinion on a major national issue,“ said Amyras, who became an independent MP expected to cooperate with New Democracy, the main opposition party.

Later Monday, another deputy, Grigoris Psarianos also announced he was leaving the party, in a Facebook post.

That leaves the party with just three MPs including leader Stavros Theodorakis, who supports the Macedonia deal.

On Sunday, the centre-left socialist alliance ‘Movement for Change’ (formerly Pasok), expelled Thanassis Theoharopoulos from the party’s parliamentary group after he decided to vote for the name change deal. — AFP

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