Coun­try ap­proves name change

The Intelligencer (Belleville) - - WORLD NEWS - KONSTANTIN TESTORIDES and NI­CHOLAS PAPHITIS

SKOPJE, Mace­do­nia — Mace­do­nia late Fri­day ful­filled its part of a his­toric deal that will pave its way to NATO mem­ber­ship and nor­mal­ize re­la­tions with neigh­bour­ing Greece, af­ter law­mak­ers ap­proved con­sti­tu­tional changes to re­name the coun­try North Mace­do­nia.

The move was hailed by NATO and the Euro­pean Union, which had lob­bied heav­ily for Mace­do­nia to back the agree­ment de­spite strong crit­i­cism from the coun­try’s main op­po­si­tion party.

All 81 Mace­do­nian law­mak­ers present for the par­lia­men­tary vote backed the con­sti­tu­tional amend­ments. The re­main­ing 39 op­po­si­tion law­mak­ers in the 120- seat house stayed away in protest.

Prime Min­is­ter Zo­ran Zaev told law­mak­ers the deal was a “tough” but nec­es­sary de­ci­sion for his coun­try.

The vote fol­lowed in­tense ne­go­ti­a­tions be­tween Zaev’s cen­tre- left coali­tion and some op­po­si­tion law­mak­ers, who had ini­tially agreed to back the agree­ment but raised last- minute ob­jec­tions.

“A bet­ter deal could not be reached, and with­out an agree- ment with Greece there will be no NATO and Euro­pean Union ( mem­ber­ship),” Zaev said.

The agree­ment on chang­ing the name comes af­ter a 27- year dis­pute with Greece, which com­plained that this small, land­locked coun­try call­ing it­self Mace­do­nia im­plied claims on Greece’s own ter­ri­tory and cul­tural her­itage. Mace­do­nian lead­ers de­nied that.

The deal en­coun­tered strong op­po­si­tion on both sides of the bor­der, with crit­ics on each side say­ing it of­fered too many con­ces­sions to the other side.

NATO leader Jens Stoltenberg said the al­liance strongly sup­ports the full im­ple­men­ta­tion of the agree­ment, un­der which Greece will lift its ob­jec­tions to Mace­do­nia join­ing NATO and the EU.

Stoltenberg said in a tweet Fri­day that the agree­ment is “an im­por­tant con­tri­bu­tion to a sta­ble and pros­per­ous re­gion.”

EU for­eign pol­icy chief Fed­er­ica Mogherini said the bloc strongly sup­ports the deal and “remains firmly com­mit­ted to con­tinue to fully sup­port and ac­com­pany ( Mace­do­nia) to­wards its com­mon strate­gic goal of EU in­te­gra­tion.”

For the agree­ment to come into ef­fect, Greece’s par­lia­ment must now con­vene in com­ing weeks to rat­ify it.

ROBERT ATANASVSKI/ GETTY IM­AGES

Mace­do­nian Prime Min­is­ter Zo­ran Zaev, cen­tre left, greets leader of the DUI party Ali Ah­meti af­ter their vote to change the coun­try’s name to North Mace­do­nia on Fri­day.

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