Macedonia name changed to end 27-year name row

Macedonia name changed to end 27-year name row

The dispute over the "Macedonia" name had been a thorn in relations of the two countries at least since 1991, when Macedonia broke away from former Yugoslavia, declaring its independence under the name Republic of Macedonia.

Greece had long demanded that its northern neighbour change or modify its name to avoid any claim to the territory and ancient heritage of the region in northern Greece named Macedonia - birthplace of ancient warrior king Alexander the Great.

In 2016, amid Europe's worst migrant crisis since World War II, Athens accused Skopje of using "excessive force" to push back hundreds of migrants trying to cross into Macedonia to continue their journey to northern Europe.

Zoran Zaev, the prime minister of Macedonia, and Alexis Tsipras, the prime minister of Greece, both agreed to the deal on Monday.

In televised comments, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras declared the deal "a great diplomatic victory and a great historic opportunity" for the region to have "friendship, cooperation and co-development".

Speaking after a phone call with Greek counterpart Alexis Tsipras, he said: "There is no way back".

On Twitter, Zaev said the deal preserved the Macedonian ethnic and cultural identity.

"The PES calls on all governments in the EU to prove that those who make hard decisions are rewarded and invite Skopje to start the accession negotiations with the European Union at the 28-29 June EU summit", he said.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said the deal and Macedonia's possible membership "will help to consolidate peace and stability across the wider Western Balkans".

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"I now call on both countries to finalise the agreement reached by the two leaders".

"This will set Skopje on its path to North Atlantic Treaty Organisation membership".

Zaev said that the deal will be put to a referendum in Macedonia in the autumn.

Greece and Macedonia are involved in a longtime dispute over the name of the Republic of Macedonia.

The Greek government has spent 27 years fighting with Macedonia over the use of the name, which references ancient Macedonia and by association its famous leader, Alexander the Great.

"The name change will be implemented not only the country's worldwide relations but also domestically", Tsipras said adding that Skopje would need to revise its constitution.

European Council President Donald Tusk tweeted his support for the agreement: 'Thanks to you the impossible is becoming possible'. "I am keeping my fingers crossed".

Organisers of past rallies in Greece's main cities against a compromise with Macedonia also expressed outrage at the deal, with one accusing Mr Tsipras of "high treason".

In Skopje meanwhile, Macedonian President Gjorge Ivanov said earlier in the day that he remained opposed to a constitutional change that would likely be included in the draft deal, to provide an assurance that the name change was permanent and binding for domestic and global use.

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