Greece, Macedonia sign agreement on name change

The UN "name" mediator, Matthew Nimetz, as well as other ministers from both countries attended the ceremony, as did the European Union enlargement commissioner, Johannes Hahn, the European Union foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, as well as the UN's Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, Rosemary DiCarlo.

Greece's main opposition leader urged lawmakers Saturday to support his no-confidence vote against the government over a deal to end a decades-old dispute with neighboring Macedonia over the latter's name.

Agreement must still be approved by both countries' parliaments.

The accord, signed on Lake Prespa in northern Greece bordering Macedonia and Albania, hopes to settle almost three decades of talks between the two over the name.

Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias and his Macedonian counterpart Nikola Dimitrov sign an accord to settle a long dispute over the former Yugoslav republic's name as Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev look on in the village of Psarades, in Prespes, Greece, June 17, 2018.

"The time has come again to sing happy songs in the Balkans", Tsipras said, moments before the document was signed by the two countries' foreign ministers.

They argue that by officially recognizing a Macedonian language and nationality, it is nearly certain that the country will be called Macedonia by the broader world, instead of North Macedonia.

Speaking during the debate, Defence Minister and Independent Greeks head Panos Kammenos stressed that voting against the no-confidence motion was not a vote in favour of the Macedonia name deal, which he vowed to reject when it is eventually brought to parliament.

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The country's President, Gjorge Ivanov, has further complicated matters with his refusal to sign the agreement, the BBC has reported. "For us none of it is valid", said Costas Venetikidis, a protester. "We put an end to the long-standing differences which have put up a wall that made friendly relations hard between neighbours", Zaev said.

"With the signing of the agreement between Macedonia and Greece, everyone will benefit", Zaev said Saturday.

Macedonian leaders have said that with the deal in hand, they hope to secure a date to begin European Union accession talks at an European Union summit in late June, and an invitation to join North Atlantic Treaty Organisation by mid-July. "We cannot change the past, we could the future".

Both the Greek and the Macedonian parliaments still have to ratify the deal for it to be applied, and Macedonia will also put the issue to a referendum vote for its citizens.

The ratification process will take months.

The deal aims to end a dispute that has roiled the two countries' relations since Macedonia declared independence from Yugoslavia in 1991.

The deal will ultimately pave the way for Macedonia to join European Union and North Atlantic Treaty Organisation which was resisted by Greece.

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