Protest in Skopje against name deal; president won't sign it - English

Protest in Skopje against name deal; president won't sign it - English

An agreement had been forged with neighbouring Greece to rename the nation as the Republic of North Macedonia - but Gjorge Ivanov has claimed the deal has given too many concessions to Athens.

Agreed late on 12 June by Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and his Macedonian counterpart, Zoran Zaev, it now throws open the door to membership in NATO and the European Union for North Macedonia.

Greece has long demanded that its northern neighbor change its name, saying the term "Macedonia" implies territorial claims on its own northern province of the same name, birthplace of the ancient warrior king Alexander the Great, and usurps ancient Greek heritage and history.

A preliminary agreement will be signed Sunday by the two countries' foreign ministers in the Prespa Lakes region on the Greek-Macedonian border, launching a ratification process that will last for months, officials in Athens said. Greek opponents of the agreement plan a protest in Athens on Friday.

If Ivanov refuses to sign the deal, then the agreement returns to the Macedonian parliament for the second time. Lawmakers acted following Tsipras's deal with the neighboring Republic of Macedonia that it should be called Severna Makedonja, or Northern Macedonia. If Europe fails to support the compromise, it will have left both prime ministers to fight against not only their domestic opponents but also the Russian propaganda machine. The stance of Defence Minister Panos Kammenos, who heads the coalition's junior partner, the right-wing Independent Greeks party, will be crucial. In Macedonia, Mr Zaev has said he will put the deal to a referendum this autumn. "I will not support or sign such a damaging agreement", Ivanov said at a news conference in the Republic of Macedonia's capital, Skopje, on Wednesday.

The name dispute has poisoned the two countries' relations since Macedonia gained independence from Yugoslavia in 1991. Under the deal reached between the two countries' prime ministers Tuesday, Macedonia will be renamed Republic of North Macedonia.

Tsipras has said he does not expect that to happen. He rejects the new formula on the grounds that it still lets the neighbours assert a Macedonian language and ethnicity. In the years that followed, Macedonia began to backslide on democratic reforms, losing its hopes for European and Euro-Atlantic integration. This effectively changed Bulgaria's position, which had theretofore ruled out a name that included a geographical limitation. However, Tsipras said, this will be contingent on Macedonia completing the constitutional changes. It is now known officially at the United Nations as the "Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia".

Main opposition New Democracy is expected to file a no-confidence motion against the government as early as Thursday.

A positive breakthrough in the relations was reached previous year with the signing of a bilateral friendship pact in a region beset by ethnic and territorial disputes.

Greece's conservative opposition party, New Democracy, took the opportunity to call a no-confidence vote over the name deal, hoping to exploit the rift and topple Tsipras' government.



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