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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Greece Fuels Macedonian Dispute

ATHENS -- Greece, raising tensions sharply in the southern Balkans, said Wednesday that it was stopping the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia from using the vital Greek port of Salonika for its supplies, except for humanitarian aid.


The land-locked republic, which declared independence from Yugoslavia in 1991, is heavily dependent on the northern Greek port for supplies.


Socialist Prime Minister Andreas Papandreou, in a statement before an emergency cabinet meeting, said he was also shutting Greece's consulate in Skopje, capital of the neighboring Balkan republic. He defined Humanitarian aid as food and medicine.


Papandreou said: "The Greek government has decided to close our general consulate in Skopje and halt the movement of goods to and from Salonika, except those which are absolutely necessary for humanitarian reasons."


He said he took the steps because of Skopje's "intransigence" and "aggressive behavior" in a dispute which has destabilized the southern Balkans since 1991.


"Today's decisions stand as a message to Skopje and others who take part in creating false impressions in the international community," he said.


The deepening crisis in the southern Balkans has coincided with NATO preparations for air strikes against Bosnian Serbs around Sarajevo if they fail to hand in or withdraw their heavy artillery by a Sunday deadline.


Greece has tried in vain to block international recognition of the new state of two million Slavs and ethnic Albanians, saying it must change its name and meet other demands.


Papandreou said the decision by several of Greece's European Union partners, and the United States last week, to recognize Skopje had sent the wrong signals.


"The result was that all these actions were misunderstood by Skopje and gave them the false impression they could ignore Greece," he said in his televised statement.


Athens says the name "Macedonia" will be exploited to press territorial claims against Greece's province of Macedonia, where some 2.5 million Greek Macedonians live.


More than 100,000 Greeks marched through Salonika on Tuesday to protest against Washington's decision to recognize the former Yugoslav republic.


Papandreou said Greece wanted good relations with the new state, just 70 kilometers from Salonika, and had patiently asked Skopje to "change its expansionist constitution" and abandon its national emblem "which is a historic Greek symbol."


The 16-pointed Macedonian star was found in northern Greece in the tombs of the kings of the ancient Macedonian dynasty, which includes the 4th-century BC conqueror Alexander the Great.


The United Nations, which has admitted the new state under the temporary name "Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia" has refused to let Skopje fly its flag at U.N. headquarters in New York until the dispute with Greece is settled.


Papandreou said if Skopje meets Greece's conditions, Athens would rejoin U.N. talks aimed at resolving the feud and would lift its veto on the republic joining the Conference for Security and Cooperation in Europe.


The dispute has revived deep-seated, long standing animosities between the Greek Macedonians and Slav Macedonians.