Greece, Macedonia sign pact to change ex-Yugoslav republic's name

Mr Tsipras and his Macedonian counterpart Zoran Zaev watched as their foreign ministers signed the deal on Lake Prespa on Greece's northern border on Sunday.

Greece and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia set aside decades of dispute on Sunday as they agreed on a new name for the Balkan state, potentially paving the way for Skopje's admission to the European Union and North Atlantic Treaty Organisation.

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras hailed the agreement on Sunday, saying: "This is a fearless, historic and necessary step for our peoples".

"We are here to heal the wounds of time, to open a path for peace, fraternization and growth for our countries, the Balkans and Europe", he said, adding that the time had come again "to sing happy songs in the Balkans".

"Our two countries should step out of the past and look to the future", said Macedonia Prime Minister Zoran Zaev. "We put an end to the long-standing differences which have put up a wall that made friendly relations hard between neighbours", Zaev said. In Psarades, the tiny lakeside community where the deal was signed, the church bell tolled in mourning, draped in a Greek flag.

The two countries' foreign ministers are due to meet Sunday to sign the accord.

Zaev is to arrive by boat from across the lake, to be greeted by Tsipras.

United Nations under-secretary-general for political affairs Rosemary DiCarlo, longterm United Nations negotiator Matthew Nimetz, EU diplomatic chief Federica Mogherini and EU enlargement commissioner Johannes Hahn were on hand, snapping pictures with their smartphones.

United Nations mediator Matthew Nimetz congratulated the two leaders, adding that the agreement was an honorable deal.

But it was the election of Zaev in 2017, replacing nationalist prime minister Nikola Gruevski, that proved crucial. Talks with Greece resumed after Zaev took office in the Balkan state of 2 million previous year and made solving the quarrel a priority.

Athens has long argued that by using the name Macedonia, its neighbour was implying it had a claim on the northern Greek province also called Macedonia.

Opposition parties in both countries have challenged the deal, saying it's against national interests.

The Macedonian parliament is scheduled to start debating the agreement next week.

The deal must be ratified first by Macedonia's parliament and confirmed in a Macedonian referendum in September, after which Greece's parliament must ratify it.

However, the new agreed name, the Republic of North Macedonia, will be used both internationally and domestically, an issue that was a priority for Greece.

The two countries' leaders announced the deal on Tuesday and have pressed ahead despite protests.

Officials in Athens insist that the deal will help stabilise the historically volatile Balkan region, permitting Greece to focus on other regional challenges, Turkey among them.

A flare thrown by protesters highlights riot police guarding the parliament during a demonstration against the agreement between Greece and Macedonia over a dispute of the former Yugoslav\'s republic name, in Athens, on Saturday.



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