Opponents of the deal between Greece and Macedonia on the latter country's new name "North Macedonia" light flares protesting outside the parliament in Skopje, Macedonia, Sunday, June 17, 2018. The preliminary deal signed by the two countries' foreign ministers in the Prespes Lakes area, Greece, launches a long process that will last several months. If successful, it will end a decades-long dispute between neighbors Greece and Macedonia, which will be renamed North Macedonia. (AP Photo/Boris Grdanoski)

Macedonian government submits deal on new name to parliament

June 18, 2018 - 1:27 pm

SKOPJE, Macedonia (AP) — Macedonia's government set in motion Monday the process of ratifying a pending agreement to change the country's name to "North Macedonia" in hopes of ending a bitter 27-year dispute with southern neighbor Greece.

Macedonian government spokesman Mile Bosnjakovski said Prime Minister Zoran Zaev's Cabinet approved the deal he reached last week and forwarded it for parliament's approval.

The agreement, which will take months to complete and faces several hurdles on the way, was signed Sunday by the two countries' foreign ministers in the border Prespa Lakes area.

Macedonia's parliament speaker told the state MIA news agency the ratification debate would start Tuesday and is forecast to end by Friday night. Lawmakers are expected to endorse the proposal. The governing coalition controls 61 of the 120 seats in parliament.

While the deal would commit Greece to lifting its objections to Macedonia joining NATO and the European Union, politicians and residents in both countries oppose the compromise their prime ministers reached on the Macedonia name. They argue that the other country benefited at the expense of their own.

Seven policemen were injured and 25 protesters detained late Sunday in the Macedonian capital of Skopje as demonstrators opposed to the name deal tried to push their way into the parliament building.

The Interior Ministry said police used tear gas to stop the demonstrators as they threw stones and firecrackers. The statement made no mention of injuries among the protesters. A few thousand people took part in the demonstration.

Police reported Monday that unknown arsonists set fire overnight to the car of a lawmaker in Macedonia's left-wing governing party who had attended Sunday's signing ceremony.

Earlier Sunday in the Prespa Lakes area, some 4,000 Greeks protested the deal but were prevented from getting near officials at the signing ceremony. Clashes erupted that left Greek police and 12 people injured.

Greece insisted on a name change for years, arguing that the name Macedonia implies claims on its own northern province of Macedonia, and on Greece's ancient heritage. Most Greek hardliners want to avoid any use of the word Macedonia in the small landlocked country's name.

In Macedonia, President Gjorge Ivanov vocally opposes the change to North Macedonia and has said he will not sign off on the agreement even if parliament ratifies it. That would force lawmakers to repeat the debate and vote, and if the deal is ratified again then Ivanov will be unable to block it.

Prime Minister Zoran Zaev has also pledged to hold a referendum on the deal. If Macedonians vote in favor, the next step will be for the country's parliament to approve a constitutional amendment formally changing the country's name.

Provided all that goes off smoothly, Greece's parliament will then vote on the deal, which has split the left-led governing coalition and is rejected by most opposition parties.

If Macedonia fails to complete its side of the process, Greece says its neighbor's NATO and EU accession course will automatically come to a halt under the deal.

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Paphitis contributed from Athens, Greece

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