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Greece, Macedonia sign agreement on name change

19 June 2018

Greek lawmakers have rejected a no-confidence motion in the government brought by the main opposition party over a deal to change the name of Macedonia and end a decades-old dispute with Greece's northern neighbor.

Tsipras' domestic critics say he has bargained away Greece's diplomatic advantages - the power of veto over European Union and North Atlantic Treaty Organisation accession - for a deal that could backfire.

Thousands of Greeks were protesting against the agreement outside parliament, calling for Tsipras to resign.

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev gesture before the signing of an accord to settle a long dispute over the former Yugoslav republic's name in the village of Psarades, in Prespes, Greece, June 17, 2018.

He said: "This is a courageous, historic and necessary step for our peoples". Greece and Macedonia would henceforth be "partners and allies" in modeling successful diplomacy for the whole region, he said.

The ceremony was attended by Matthew Nimetz, the UN Special Envoy on the name dispute, EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini and European Enlargement Commissioner Johannes Hahn.

On Saturday, police guarding parliament had also clashed with protesters as Tsipras defeated a vote of censure against his government.

Scuffles broke out and police used stun grenades and tear gas to prevent them from entering the building.

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Macedonian nationalists who also object to the agreement planned a rally in the city of Bitola, near the Greek border, on Sunday afternoon.

Greece argued the term "Macedonia" implied territorial claims on its province of the same name, which is the birthplace of the ancient warrior king Alexander the Great, and usurped its ancient Greek heritage and history.

Athens and Skopje are at odds over the use of the name of Macedonia since the neighboring state declared independence from Yugoslavia in 1991. "Imagine what (the deal) will mean, just for the flow of people. local business, revival of tourism", says Dimovski, who runs a beach bar just 50 metres from the border.

Opposition is even stronger in Greece's north, where Greek and Bulgarian guerrillas fought a bitter four-year war in the early 20th century for predominance among Orthodox Christians in then Ottoman-held Macedonia. "A vote against the vote of no confidence is a vote in favor of the Tsipras-Zaev agreement tomorrow", referring to the Macedonia name deal.

"We are Macedonians and we will always be Macedonians", said an elderly man. He received warm applause, not only for his often-frustrated effort to make the name dispute a thing of the past, but because Sunday was his 79th birthday Sunday.

Senior EU officials were also present at the signing ceremony.

After the signature, Tsipras crossed over to the Macedonian side of Lake Prespa for lunch, becoming the first Greek prime minister to visit the neighbouring state.

Greek objections delayed United Nations recognition of Macedonia until April 1993 and then only as The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM).

Greece, Macedonia sign agreement on name change