Law­mak­ers OK switch to name North Mace­do­nia

The Charlotte Observer - - Front Page - BY KON­STANTIN TESTORIDES AND NI­CHOLAS PAPHITIS As­so­ci­ated Press

Mace­do­nia late Fri­day ful­filled its part of a his­toric deal that will pave its way to NATO mem­ber­ship and nor­mal­ize re­la­tions with neigh­bor­ing 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, and by Greece’s prime min­is­ter who has in­vested heav­ily in the deal.

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.

For the agree­ment to come into ef­fect, Greece’s par­lia­ment must now con­vene in com­ing weeks to rat­ify it – a tricky task for Greek Prime Min­is­ter Alexis Tsipras who faces strong op­po­si­tion to the agree­ment from his ju­nior coali­tion part­ner.

Tsipras spoke with Zaev on Fri­day to con­grat­u­late him after the vote, the Greek prime min­is­ter’s of­fice said.

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 cen­ter-left coali­tion and some op­po­si­tion law­mak­ers, who had ini­tially agreed to back the agree­ment but raised last-minute ob­jec­tions.

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.

BORIS GRDANOSKI AP

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