No FYROM reprisals

The government yesterday denied a minister’s claim to have launched petty reprisals against the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia on the resurgent matter of the name by which Greece’s tiny northern neighbor will be internationally recognized. This followed the contention, late on Monday, by Labor Minister Panos Panayiotopoulos, that he had frozen a deal on seasonal work permits for FYROM nationals after Washington recognized the country last week as the «Republic of Macedonia.» Athens has fought, during the 13 years of FYROM’s existence as an independent state, to block use of the name, arguing that it might imply territorial claims on the northern Greek province of Macedonia. Panayiotopoulos told Alpha TV that he had canceled the signing of an agreement for 15,000 temporary work permits for agricultural laborers, offering the following explanation: «After consultation with Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis and Foreign Minister Petros Molyviatis, I considered that we should give Skopje the necessary time to reflect that the frivolous and unjust decision by the US… is more to their detriment than their benefit,» Panayiotopoulos said. Government spokesman Evangelos Antonaros swiftly contradicted the minister: «There are no reprisals, no punishment,» he said. «Mr Panayiotopoulos was referring to a small postponement in the negotiations carried out every year on the arrival of seasonal workers from [FYROM] to Greece.» Meanwhile, Molyviatis yesterday met with President Costis Stephanopoulos to inform him of the latest developments in the matter and will brief the parliamentary committee on foreign affairs and defense today. Tomorrow, he will launch a series of meetings with political party leaders – starting with Giorgos Karadzaferis, head of the ultra-nationalist Popular Orthodox Rally (LAOS) which organized a protest rally on the FYROM name in Thessaloniki on Sunday. Late yesterday, Molyviatis held talks with European Union foreign affairs chief Javier Solana, who paid a quick visit to Athens after a trip to FYROM. Neither made any statements regarding FYROM’s name after the meeting. In Skopje, Prime Minister Hari Kostov reaffirmed his country’s friendly intentions toward Athens, stressing that Greece is FYROM’s most important trading partner and foreign investor.