Thousands of demonstrators gathered in the Greek capital of Athens to protest negotiations with its bordering country regarding its use of the name Macedonia. Photo by Alexandros Vlachos/EPA
Feb. 4 (UPI) -- Tens of thousands of protesters gathered in the Greek capital of Athens to protest negotiations regarding the use of the name Macedonia.
Organizers said about 1.5 million people from across Greece and the Greek diaspora gathered in Syntagma Square waving flags and chanting "Hands off Macedonia," "Macedonia is Greek" and "We won't leave until we are vindicated."
Police placed the estimated attendance at around 140,000.
Demonstrators were brought in to the capital on buses and ferries to protest Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras holding negotiations with the neighboring country of Macedonia over the use of the name.
The rally was funded by Greek diaspora groups, backed by retired officer associations, Greek Macedonian cultural unions, church groups and others who claim the use of the name "Macedonia" suggests a false connection to the heritage and territory of Greece's northern region of the same name.
Macedonia's government refer's to the country as the "Republic of Macedonia" and it is officially recognized as the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia by organizations such as the United Nations.
Greece has referred to Macedonia as Skopje, after the capital, and blocked its attempts to enter the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation and the European Union since it broke free from Yugoslavia in 1991.
An attempt to settle the conflict by renaming the country "Republic of Macedonia-Skopje" was accepted by Greece but denied by Macedonia.
The rally's keynote speaker Mikis Theodorakis, the renowned composer of Zorba the Greek, called the northern state "illegitimate" and urged country's legislator's to hold a referendum before reaching an agreement.
"Macedonia was, is and will forever be Greek," he said. "If a government considers signing on behalf of our country... there is no doubt it must first ask the Greek people."