Sit-ins swell as Greek students march over Prespes deal

Sit-ins swell as Greek students march over Prespes deal

As a wave of sit-ins against Greece’s name deal with the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) sweeps across the country exposing social divisions and evolving into a focal point of opposition between political parties, about 1,200 high school pupils Thursday marched through the northern port city of Thessaloniki.

According to unofficial data, teenagers had until Thursday closed down about 500 schools across the country. An estimated 15-20 percent of the sit-ins are said to be inspired by opposition to the so-called Prespes accord.

Meanwhile, about 210 schools in the Central Macedonia region – of which 100 are in Thessaloniki – were participating in the sit-in protests until Thursday.

The sit-ins, not an unusual occurrence in Greece, have stoked tension between youngsters as well as pitting students against teachers who oppose the protests. A secondary school teachers’ federation (ELME) in Thessaloniki slammed the “nationalist sit-ins,” saying they were being orchestrated by far-right groups.

It said outsiders, also active on Facebook, were using manipulative and intimidating tactics to advance their cause. Teachers critical of the sit-ins say they have been targeted on social media.

Government officials have suggested the protests are instigated by the neo-fascist Golden Dawn party. Education Minister Costas Gavroglou earlier this week accused the party of “trying to inject nationalist poison into schoolchildren.”

While firm on distancing itself from the sit-ins, New Democracy Thursday voiced its opposition to blanket generalizations, saying that not all student protesters are affiliated with the far-right.

Asked on Skai whether protests were instigated by Golden Dawn, ND spokesperson Maria Spyraki said, “Students are exposed to stimuli; they are free to choose how they react.”

Meanwhile Thursday, about 1,200 high school students staged a march from Thessaloniki’s White Tower landmark led by a horseman draped in a Greek flag.

Demonstrators waved flags, put up banners against FYROM and shouted slogans against Mayor Yiannis Boutaris and Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras.

A group of masked protesters holding wooden clubs attacked police with bottles and flares. Police used fire grenades to disperse a group that attacked an anarchist hangout.

In Athens, a group calling itself “Initiative to Coordinate Schools and Students in Athens” staged a protest rally earlier in the day, urging students “not to allow fascists to find room for expression in our schools.”

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