Friday, December 29, 2006

Dispute over 'Alexander airport'

Greece has reacted angrily to the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia's decision to rename its main airport after Alexander the Great.

Greece considers the famous warrior-king to be a central part of its own ancient heritage.

Greek Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis protested at Macedonia's decision, saying: "History cannot change, or be falsified, 2,000 years on".

Greece and its neighbour are also in dispute over the name Macedonia.

Macedonia is the name of a region in northern Greece, and Athens has demanded that the country to the north be known as the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia - the name under which it joined the United Nations after the break-up of Yugoslavia.

The government in Skopje wants the name Republic of Macedonia to be recognised internationally, but Greece has threatened to block its ambitions to join the European Union and Nato under that name.

Ms Bakoyannis appeared to be referring to that when she said Macedonia's latest decision "does not further its Euro-Atlantic aspirations".

Macedonian newspapers reported that the cabinet had decided to rename Skopje international airport "Alexander the Great".

The name change needs to be approved by international air traffic authorities before it can be enforced.

'Goodwill gesture'

Alexander is considered one of the most successful military commanders in history, conquering swathes of land to the east, as far as India, in the 4th Century BC.

"Alexander the Great is a leading figure of global appeal...(a) Greek conqueror who established himself in history by spreading Greek culture across the entire known world," Ms Bakoyannis said.

"With its announcement today, [Macedonia] once again seeks false supports in the past," she said.

However, Macedonia's Foreign Minister Antonio Milososki said the decision was a "goodwill" gesture, "with which we wanted to pay our respects to this historic person who brings peoples and countries together".

"We didn't have any intention to monopolise the name," he added.

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