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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 April 2019

Macedonia parliament gives approval for name change

The dispute has blocked Skopje's bid to join Nato and the EU

Two thirds - 80 members - of Macedonia's parliament voted to start changing the constitution to rename the country North Macedonia as part of a deal with Greece. EPA
Two thirds - 80 members - of Macedonia's parliament voted to start changing the constitution to rename the country North Macedonia as part of a deal with Greece. EPA

Macedonian MPs on Friday backed a milestone proposal to amend the country's constitution, allowing the former Yugoslav republic to change its name and join Nato.

After the session was delayed for more than 10 hours, parliament voted in favour of the proposal — a vital step in accepting the deal struck with neighbour Greece in June.

Prime Minister Zoran Zaev's Social Democrat government struggled to get support from the conservative opposition needed to achieve a two-thirds majority required in the 120-seat house.

With strong backing from western leaders, Mr Zaev is leading a campaign to rename the country North Macedonia, resolving a long-standing dispute with Greece that will allow the country to join Nato.

Conservatives in Macedonia vehemently oppose the name change and boycotted a referendum last month on the issue.

Igor Janushev, secretary general of the main opposition party said conservative lawmakers had endured a campaign of "political intimidation" before the vote and claimed that three lawmakers had been offered bribes of between €250,000 and €2 million (Dh1m - Dh8.3m).

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The government rejected the allegations and said it would respond with legal action.

Following Friday's vote, the amendment process must formally start within the next two weeks.

Mr Zaev would have been forced to call an early election if the government lost the vote.

The name change would end a 27-year dispute with Greece, which claims its neighbour's current name implies claims on its own adjoining province of Macedonia, and on ancient Greek heritage.

Athens said it will block Macedonia's path to Nato and the European Union unless it goes ahead with the constitutional amendments. Western officials strongly back the deal, which would reduce Russian influence in the Balkans.

After the vote, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras tweeted: "Congratulations my friend Zoran Zaev! Tonight's vote is a big step towards our common success. A very important step to a peaceful and prosperous future for our people!"

Updated: February 11, 2019 04:44 PM

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