Greece Ratifies New Name For Neighbor: North Macedonia

Thousands protest as Greek parliament delays Macedonia vote

Greece's parliament had been expected to ratify the name-change late on Thursday, despite angry protests and opposition from political parties calling the deal "nationally damaging".

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has welcomed the Greek parliament's ratification of a deal to end a 27-year dispute over neighboring Macedonia's name. Greece's objection has impeded Skopje's bids to join North Atlantic Treaty Organisation and the European Union.

Main opposition leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis of the conservative New Democracy party said the agreement "creates new problems" and "awakens nationalism".

Macedonia's parliament approved constitutional changes to rename the country North Macedonia on January 11.

Since Macedonia gained independence in 1991, Greece has objected to Skopje's use of the name, saying it is in direct conflict with the Greek province that goes by the same name.

To make the UN-sponsored agreement final, Greece must also ratify a protocol approving Macedonia's membership of the Western military alliance North Atlantic Treaty Organisation.

Similar protests were held in other parts of the country, mostly in northern towns where opposition to the deal is stronger, polls showing six in 10 Greeks rejecting the agreement. "For eternal peace and progress of the Balkans and in Europe!"

The agreement, known as the Prespa Agreement after the northern Greek lake where it was signed last summer, passed by a narrow margin of three votes in the 300-seat chamber.

Last June, Macedonia's Prime Minister Zoran Zaev and his Greek counterpart Alexis Tsipras reached a landmark compromise over the name dispute. Its language will be recognised as "Macedonian" and its citizens as "Macedonian/Citizen of the Republic of North Macedonia".

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Supporters of Macedonia's name-change deal with Greece are "on the right side of history" and their critics will eventually agree, Macedonia's foreign minister told AFP as the accord approaches the final step of ratification.

The name agreement has been a rare positive news story in the Balkans, a region riddled with complex disagreements and tense relations between neighbours.

Negotiations restart in January 2018 under United Nations auspices, despite strong opposition from nationalists in both countries.

"Certain Greeks oppose the deal because they believe that the term Macedonia historically belongs to the Greeks".

"The name of the country, and, moreover, the identity, culture, and history of its people has been changed under vast pressure, with numerous breaches of our constitution and respectful laws".

North Atlantic Treaty Organisation and European Union leaders have applauded Greece's parliament for approving the historic agreement with neighbouring Macedonia, following days of heated debate and clashes in the streets. Greeks, who consider this one of the high points of their history, see the use of the name by their northern neighbor as an attempt to usurp their history and also fear it harbors territorial ambitions on its own northern province of the same name.

Several hundred protesters holding Greek flags had gathered by early evening outside the parliament in Athens, the scene of violent clashes with police on Sunday.

In Greece, the agreement already cost the government its parliamentary majority, with the small right-wing Independent Greeks party quitting the governing coalition in protest. The motion receives the required two-thirds majority by just one vote.

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