World: Greek parliament approves Macedonia's NATO accession - PressFrom - US

WorldGreek parliament approves Macedonia's NATO accession

22:50  08 february  2019
22:50  08 february  2019 Source:

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Greek parliament approves Macedonia's NATO accession© The Associated Press Greece's Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, left, raises his hand as former defense minister Panos Kammenos leaves the podium during a parliament session in Athens, Friday, Feb. 8, 2019. Greek lawmakers are set Friday to approve Macedonia's NATO accession, ending a process to normalize relations between the two neighbors and anchor the country — renamed North Macedonia — firmly within the western sphere of influence. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)

ATHENS, Greece — Greece's parliament has approved a measure for Macedonia to join NATO, ending a decades-old dispute. Lawmakers have voted 153-140 to back the NATO protocol that must now also be approved by all other alliance members. The Greek vote means the former Yugoslav republic will now formally change its name to North Macedonia, settling a dispute of the country's name which Greece's saw as a potential threat to its own northern region of Macedonia.

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The vote ends a contentious process to normalize relations between the two neighbors and anchor the country firmly within the western sphere of influence.

Greek opposition parties rejected the move, arguing that the name deal, which will end a 27-year dispute, concedes too much to Macedonia. But the left-led government in Athens had enough seats in parliament to win the vote.

"(We) will vote against the accession protocol because it is, simply, the final act or the final act of a damaging agreement," conservative opposition leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis told parliament before the vote to applause from members of his party.

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Greece and the former Yugoslav republic — independent since 1991 — struck the historic agreement last summer, despite protests from opposition parties, and ratified it in parliament.

Greek approval of Macedonia's NATO accession bid is the final step in the deal. Greece's foreign ministry will promptly notify the Macedonian government of the result. Macedonia will then write to the United Nations, its member states and international organizations, formally announcing the name change.

Government spokesman Mile Boshnjakovski told The Associated Press this would happen "in coming days."

The two countries remained deadlocked over Macedonia's name for the duration of the younger country's existence but then left-led governments were elected in both countries that were less vulnerable to nationalist pressure.

The main catalyst for the change was Macedonia's wish to join NATO, and, eventually, the European Union, and western countries' desire to diminish Russian influence in the region.

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Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras faced larges demonstrations against the deal, while opinion polls showed that more than two-thirds of Greeks oppose it. The agreement also nearly toppled his government last month after triggering the breakup of his coalition with the nationalist Independent Greeks party.

Tsipras cobbled a slim majority together with the support of several independent lawmakers, but the split saw former defense minister Panos Kammenos' Independent Greeks likely to lose their party representation in parliament, prompting a bitter exchange late Friday between the two former allies.

"I want you to know that the execution (of our party) doesn't that much. Obviously it means absolutely nothing to you. You have proved yourself to be a very cold (political) assassin," Kammenos told the prime minister. "But the execution of Macedonia does mean a lot."


Testorides reported from Skopje, Macedonia. Derek Gatopoulos in Athens contributed.

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