Tue, 22 Jan 2019
8
Buffalo

Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev has said he expects the Greek parliament to ratify a deal that will change his country's name to the Republic of North Macedonia.

Zaev said on January 12 that Macedonian lawmakers had 'made history' a day earlier when they ratified changes to the constitution called for in connection with changing the country's official name.

'I know how difficult that was ... we are putting the bitterness in the past and we are looking now proudly to the future,' Zaev said.

He said he now expects Greece's parliament to convene and do the same, and unblock Macedonia's NATO membership.

Zaev said that Greece has 'got a new friend now North Macedonia,' adding that he hopes the two nations will build up trust and open 'many new windows' for cooperation.

In a parliamentary session on January 11, 81 deputies in the 120-seat parliament voted in favor, securing the required two-thirds majority.

It came after three days of negotiations between Zaev and lawmakers that opposed the change.

The governments of Macedonia and Greece both struggled to secure the political support required to ratify the agreement reached last June.

Opponents of the proposal say they are defending Macedonia's name, identity, and history, as well as the traditions of the Macedonian people, against what they call 'the greatest national treachery.'

Athens argues that use of the term Macedonia implies territorial claims on Greeces northern province of the same name and on its ancient heritage.

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said earlier this week that Greece's parliament would also be asked to ratify the agreement by the end of the month.

The agreement, however, has sparked divisions between Greece's coalition partners.

Greek defense Minister Panos Kammenos -- leader of the right-wing populist Independent Greeks party -- opposes the deal and has threatened to pull his lawmakers out of the government.

Tsipras and Kammenos are scheduled to meet on January 13 to discuss their differences.

The vote by the Macedonian parliament to ratify the name change has been welcomed by several foreign leaders, including NATO General-Secretary Jens Stoltenberg and EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini.

Matthew Nimetz, the UN Secretary-General's personal envoy on the name dispute since 1999, said that the agreement paves the way for 'a firmer basis for peace and security in the Balkans.'

'I wish to congratulate the (Macedonian) parliament and the country's citizens for this accomplishment and for the democratic manner in which this important process was undertaken,' he said late on January 11.

The United States also hailed the move by the Macedonian parliament on January 12.

In a statement, U.S. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo said that Macedonias leaders demonstrated vision, courage, and persistence in their pursuit of a solution to the name dispute, which will allow Macedonia to take its rightful place in NATO and the EU as the Republic of North Macedonia.

With reporting by AP and AFP

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