As far-rightists and nationalists held the first protests over the weekend against the US recognition of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia by a name Athens has fought for 13 years to block, Greece’s two largest political parties and President Costis Stephanopoulos appealed for calm and national unity. Stephanopoulos spoke of «hard times» for the country in the wake of Washington’s surprise move on Thursday to recognize Greece’s tiny northern neighbor as the «Republic of Macedonia.» «This is an opportunity, during these hard times, due to circumstances that we are all aware of, to reflect on how important the unity of our people is,» he said yesterday. «Greece must persist on its prestigious course in the Balkans while at the same time proving that it knows how to behave as a democratic state which strives to attain prosperity for its own people, but also for regional prosperity and cooperation between all Balkan states.» Speaking in Thessaloniki, a historic hotbed of resentment against FYROM’s using the name of the Greek province of Macedonia, the top government official for northern Greece reiterated criticism of Washington’s «unfortunate» decision. But Minister for Macedonia and Thrace Nikos Tsiartsonis also urged the need for «national concord and cooperation, calm and clear-headedness.» He was speaking hours after the ultra-conservative Popular Orthodox Rally (LAOS) party organized a Thessaloniki protest against FYROM being recognized as the «Republic of Macedonia.» Up to 2,000 people participated. On Saturday, around 100 ultranationalists and neo-Nazis held a similar protest in the northern port city. On Saturday, Vangelis Meimarakis, a top official with the ruling New Democracy party, stressed that «ND does not encourage protests and rallies» on the FYROM issue. And opposition PASOK leader George Papandreou called for all parties to work together on the matter. Even the firebrand head of the Church of Greece, Archbishop Christodoulos, advocated moderation. Meanwhile, polls closed in FYROM yesterday with all signs pointing to a flop for the opposition’s referendum bid to block a Western-inspired law that gives the ethnic Albanian minority more local autonomy.