Macedonian parliament agrees to change country's name, paving way to European Union membership

Macedonian Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski

Macedonia's government was holding emergency talks for a second day on January 11 to try to secure a two-thirds parliamentary majority needed to pass a constitutional amendment that would rename the country the Republic of Northern Macedonia.

Ahead of the Macedonian vote, Prime Minister Zoran Zaev had emphasised the historic importance of the decision.

"I changed my opinion on the name issue in the name of progress and at the cost of my political career", he added.

If approved, the name change would help resolve a decades-long dispute with neighboring Greece - opening the way for Skopje to join North Atlantic Treaty Organisation and the European Union.

Greece has blocked that path since Macedonia broke away from the former Yugoslavia in 1991 because, it says, the name Macedonia should apply exclusively to its own northern province.

Greece already contained a region called Macedonia, which incorporates most of the territories of the eponymous ancient kingdom that was led centuries ago by Alexander the Great.

She said the European Union strongly supports the deal and will "fully support" Macedonia's goal of joining the EU.

But there is still opposition to the change.

A spokesperson for the governing Social Democrats said the ethnic Albanian lawmakers also agreed to back the deal.

Notably the outcome was enabled thanks to four MPs who received an amnesty for their alleged roles in the violent storming of parliament in April 2017.

The chief of NATO and the European Union's foreign policy chief have congratulated Macedonia for approving constitutional changes to rename itself North Macedonia under a deal with Greece.

The vote is expected to be a cliffhanger, with Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras' coalition partner, Panos Kammenos, the defence minister and leader of right-wing populist Independent Greeks, virulently opposed. VMRO says the deal concedes too much to Greece.

Macedonian lawmakers were convening later Friday to vote on the amendments, for which a super majority of two-thirds of the 120 members - or 80 votes - is required.

Greek Prime Minister Tsipras has said he wants to bring the deal - which has brought his coalition government to the brink of breakup - to parliament in coming weeks.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg congratulated Zaev on Twitter and reiterated the Alliance's support for the deal with Athens.

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