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ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Greek lawmakers began debating a historic agreement aimed at normalizing relations with Macedonia in a stormy parliamentary session Wednesday.

Opponents have announced a series of street protests in Athens and the northern city of Thessaloniki to coincide with the debate and Thursday night’s vote. A protest by tens of thousands of people in Athens on Sunday turned violent, with small groups of demonstrators attacking police outside parliament, and riot police responding with heavy use of tear gas.

The police issued a statement Wednesday defending their handling of the protest in response to criticism of heavy-handed tactics, saying officers came under “constant, intense and in many cases extremely dangerous … attacks by large groups of people” armed with metal bars, rocks, flare guns, Molotov cocktails and other objects. Twenty-eight policemen were injured.

Under the deal signed last year to end the decades-long dispute, Greece will drop its objections to Macedonia joining NATO in return for the country renaming itself North Macedonia, a longstanding demand from Greece, which argues use of the current name implies territorial ambitions on its own northern province of the same name.

But the deal, known as the Prespa Agreement after the border lake where it was signed, has met with strong opposition in both countries, with critics accusing their respective governments of conceding too much to the other side. The issue has already cost the Greek government its parliamentary majority, with the small right-wing Independent Greeks party quitting the governing coalition in protest. The government nevertheless narrowly survived a confidence vote last week.

Main opposition New Democracy party head Kyriakos Mitsotakis has described the agreement as a “bad deal” and has said his party “will do anything it can to avert the ratification of the Prespa Agreement in the Greek parliament.”

There has been speculation New Democracy could lodge a censure motion against the government, which would delay the final vote on the deal until the motion is debated and voted on.

The deal reached the Greek parliament after Macedonia passed a series of constitutional amendments through its own parliament to change the country’s name and change articles in its constitution that could be construed as advocating an annexation of Greek territory.


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