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

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

Macedonia's parliament has passed an amendment to the constitution to rename the country Republic of North Macedonia, to end to a 27-year dispute with Greece.

The countries struck the deal on the new name in June, but Macedonia will start using it only after the parliament in Athens also ratifies the agreement.

Zoran Zaev said that lawmakers had "made history" and that he expects neighbouring Greece to be the first to sign the accession protocol which would finally enable Macedonia to join North Atlantic Treaty Organisation.

Ethnic Albanians make up about a quarter of Macedonia's 2.1 million people.

Eighty-one deputies in the 120-seat parliament voted in favor, securing the required two-thirds majority, Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) reported.

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

He secured the required two-thirds parliamentary majority to push the constitutional change through.

Greece's prime minister has congratulated his Macedonian counterpart, Zoran Zaev, after Macedonia's parliament approved constitutional changes that fulfil its part of a deal to normalize relations with Greece.

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The Greeks have accused their northern neighbours of intent to steal the identity and even territory from their own ancient province with that name, which Macedonia has denied.

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, who congratulated Zaev in a phone call following Friday's successful vote, has previously said once Greece is formally notified by Macedonia of the constitutional changes, he will swiftly launch the process of ratifying the agreement in Greece's parliament.

The vote followed intense negotiations between Zaev's center-left coalition and some opposition lawmakers, who had initially agreed to back the agreement but raised last-minute objections.

Friday's vote brought an end to months of political bickering in Macedonia that included a controversial consultative referendum in September and a long parliamentary battle.

Macedonian lawmakers voted through the agreement late on Friday and it now needs backing from the Greek parliament to come into effect.

"The United States sees this as a historic opportunity to advance stability, security and prosperity throughout the region", Pompeo said in a statement released from Washington.

Greece is bound by terms of the deal to stop blocking Macedonia from NATOand other global groups and to allow it to start European Union accession talks as part of the deal.

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