Published: Sat, January 12, 2019
Worldwide | By Isabel Fisher

Macedonian parliament agrees to change country's name as agreed with Greece

Macedonian parliament agrees to change country's name as agreed with Greece

FYR Macedonia is controversial for Greeks because it uses the same name as a neighbouring region in northern Greece.

Opponents of the agreement, mostly supporters of the opposition conservative VMRO-DPMNE party, were holding a peaceful protest late Friday outside parliament in Skopje, the capital.

The disagreement has sparked protests on both sides of the territorial boundary and produced real consequences: Greece has blocked Macedonia's entry into both North Atlantic Treaty Organisation and the European Union.

Eighty-one of the 120 lawmakers in Macedonia's parliament voted on Friday to approve a constitutional amendment to change the country's name, NPR's Joanna Kakissis reports from Athens.

Mickoski told reporters the move to appease Greece was made against the desires of the Macedonian people "and is an act of treason".

"I changed my opinion on the name issue in the name of progress and at the cost of my political career", he added.

Prime Minister Zoran Zaev's governing coalition needed opposition backing to get the required number of votes and had said Thursday it was struggling to achieve that after a small ethnic Albanian party raised last-minute objections.

Notably the outcome was enabled thanks to four MPs who received an amnesty for their alleged roles in the violent storming of parliament in April 2017. "VMRO-DPMNE will win this election and the will of the majority of the citizens will be implemented", Mickoski said in a statement.

But the Macedonian constitution stipulates that as the measure was passed by a two-thirds majority, the president has no choice but to sign it into law.

Zaev agreed on the name change with Greek counterpart and fellow leftist Alexis Tsipras in June.

Tsipras has said once Greece is formally notified by Macedonia of the constitutional changes, he will swiftly launch the process of ratifying the agreement in Greece's parliament.

But he too has a fragile parliamentary majority, with 153 deputies in the 300-seat Greek parliament.

ANEL leader Panos Kammenos, who is Tsipras' defence minister, has threatened to pull out of the government when the deal comes to a vote in Athens.

"A new historical chapter in our statehood has been written this evening", the Macedonian government said in a statement.

The US ambassador in Skopje, Jess Bailey, commended the government and parliament for their "vision, courage and perseverance" in reaching the deal.

Macedonia's prime minister says his country's approval of constitutional changes to rename itself North Macedonia is a tough but necessary decision.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg tweeted support of the agreement on Friday, calling it "an important contribution to a stable and prosperous region".

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