Macedonia erects Alexander The Great statue

Tue Jun 21, 2011 10:36am EDT
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By Kole Casule

SKOPJE (Reuters) - Macedonia erected on Tuesday a giant bronze statue of Alexander the Great, further inflaming a long-running row with neighboring Greece that is blocking the country's bid for membership of the European Union and NATO.

Cranes hoisted the 40-tonne, 11-meter-high (39-feet) statue on a 10-meter-high pedestal in downtown Skopje, where hundreds of people cheered and took pictures.

"He is back. Alexander is finally home and can now rest," said Goran who brought his children to witness what he described as an historic event.

Greece has prevented Macedonia's entry into NATO in 2008 and blocked its progress toward EU membership because it rejects the name Macedonia, which it says implies territorial ambitions toward Greece's own northern province of Macedonia, birthplace of Alexander the Great.

The statue was carved in Italy and cost Macedonia nine million euros ($13 million).

Western diplomats had voiced worries that erecting the statue will further complicate the 20-year negotiation process between the two countries that has so far failed to reach a compromise on the name dispute.

"It certainly won't help. We have urged authorities in Skopje to refrain from acts that Athens sees as a provocation. With the statue any hopes of a quick solution of the name dispute are gone," a Skopje-based western diplomat told Reuters.

Alexander the Great's equestrian statue is the center piece of a controversial project by the Macedonian government called Skopje 2014, aimed at upgrading the battered capital.   Continued...

<p>Workers lift a massive statue of Alexander the Great on his horse Bucephalus in Skopje central square June 21, 2011. REUTERS/Ognen Teofilovski</p>