Greece, Macedonia Sign Historic Deal To End Name Dispute

Greece, Macedonia Sign Historic Deal To End Name Dispute

Their Greek counterparts welcomed them with hugs on a jetty that was enlarged for the event.

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

Skopje hopes to secure a date to begin European Union accession talks at an EU summit in late June and an invitation to join North Atlantic Treaty Organisation in mid-July.

The deal was met with fury by critics in both countries, who accuse their respective prime ministers of conceding too much. Protests have been called in both countries.

He said: "This is a fearless, historic and necessary step for our peoples".

Zaev, for his part, hailed an "end to decades of uncertainty".

"This is the most forward-looking deal the country has ever had in its hands", said Interior Minister Panos Skourletis.

Following the signing, the officials took a boat to the Macedonian lake resort of Oteshevo for a celebratory lunch. This was Matthew Nimetz - the United Nations mediator who has spent a quarter of a century trying to find a solution acceptable to both countries.

The Independent Greeks party, however, gave its support to Tsipras in the no-confidence vote on Saturday, with leader Pavlos Kamenos saying he did not want to topple the government despite his opposition to the Macedonia deal.

Many Greeks see the name issue as an attempt by Skopje to hijack Greece's ancient cultural heritage.

Several hundred marched to a nearby police blockade and began throwing rocks.

At the fishing village of Psarades, where the deal was signed, priests tolled the local church bell in a sign of mourning. "They are taking from us our soul, our name". Today we are writing a new song, a song of joy, of prosperity.

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The new name, which in Macedonian language is Severna Makedonija, will be translated and will be incorporated into the Constitution. "Nothing good for Macedonia". Another conservative lawmaker, Yiorgos Kasapidis, described the deal with Macedonia as "treason".

In tandem with the signing ceremony, Macedonia's main opposition VMRO DPMNE party planned a protest march in the southern town of Bitola.

The Macedonian parliament is scheduled to start debating the agreement next week, amid concern President Gjorge Ivanov will exercise a one-time veto option to block the deal that the nationalist opposition has called a "capitulation".

On Saturday, police guarding parliament had also clashed with protesters as Tsipras defeated a vote of censure against his government. Seven police officers and three protesters were reported injured as the atmosphere remained tense late Sunday. The UN representative for the naming dispute, Matthew Nimetz and the European Commissioner for European Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations, Johannes Hahn, also attended the signing.

"We will not divide the Greeks in order to unite the (Macedonians)", he said.

To reach a compromise over such a tough dispute "takes political leadership, courage and strategic thinking".

Under the terms of the agreement the two governments have reached, the northern neighbor of Greece will be renamed "Republic of North Macedonia" in exchange for Greece dropping its objection to the country's admission to NATO and the European Union.

Nimetz, who turned 79 on Sunday, and was given a birthday cake, has been trying to broker a solution since 1994, first as a U.S. envoy and subsequently on behalf of the United Nations.

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

"I like to think positively and really hope this will be better".

Even if it is ratified by Macedonia, the Greek government will also face big obstacles in carrying out its side of the process.

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