Macedonians' vote for new name ends rift with Greece

A supporter of the movement boycotting the deal to change the country's name protests in Skopje

With 81 votes in favour and not a single vote opposed, the parliament in Skopje approved on January 11 the constitutional amendments stemming from the Prespa agreement, changing the country's name to Republic of North Macedonia.

Eighty-one of the Macedonian parliament's 120 members backed the name change, securing the required two-thirds majority to push it through.

Hundreds of Macedonian opposition supporters protested peacefully in front of parliament for a third day, demanding early elections and the dissolution of parliament.

Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras called his Macedonian counterpart Zoran Zaev to congratulate him, his office said in a written statement.

Athens has promised to lift its veto on Skopje's attempts to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (Nato) and the European Union on the condition that Macedonia changes its name. Representatives of the opposition conservative VMRO-DPMNE party, who said the agreement concedes too much to Greece, boycotted the vote.

The main opposition New Democracy party has said it will block the deal.

In the Macedonian capital of Skopje, Macedonian Foreign Minister Nikola Dimitrov told a press conference Sunday that he has been "assured" by a Greek government official that Athens remains "strongly committed" to completing its part of the name change deal.

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"The vote on constitutional amendments that changed the name, identity, history and culture was done against the constitution".

The governments of Macedonia and Greece both struggled to secure the political support required to ratify the agreement reached last June.

Macedonia passed the deal as an amendment to its constitution on Friday, in line with an agreement with Greece to resolve a three-decades long dispute.

This past week Tsipras was challenged by his junior coalition partner, Defence Minister Panos Kammenos, who hoped to derail ratification by threatening to pull out of the government. It is unclear how other ANEL lawmakers will vote.

Only 36.08 percent of 1.8 million voters participated in the referendum to rename Macedonia, while the law requires a turnout of at least 50 percent plus one vote for the referendum to be valid.

For the deal to come into effect, Greece's parliament must now convene in coming weeks to ratify it.

Adding his congratulations late Friday, was Matthew Nimetz, the U.N. Secretary-General's personal envoy on the name dispute since 1999, saying that the agreement paves the way for "a firmer basis for peace and security in the Balkans".

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