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25 Jan, 2019 14:58

Greek MPs back Macedonia name-change deal in narrow vote amid repeated protests

Greek MPs back Macedonia name-change deal in narrow vote amid repeated protests

Greek MPs have supported the name-change deal with Macedonia with a narrow majority. The agreement, which resolves the lengthy dispute blocking Macedonia’s accession to the EU and NATO, sparked massive protests in Greece earlier.

Athens managed to secure the parliamentary backing of the deal with 153 votes in favor to 146 votes against, amid mounting public opposition. The parliament’s decision was welcomed by Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, who helped hammered out the deal last year.

“After one year of negotiations, discussions and exhaustive dialogue, we are reaching the end of a tough and painful process,” Tsipras told parliament during a heated debate ahead of the vote on Thursday night. However, the agreement, which is aimed at ending a 28-year row between Athens and Skopje by allowing the Balkan state to name itself the ‘Republic of North Macedonia’, apparently does not sit well with the Greek people.

Athens repeatedly saw massive protests as people flocked to the Greek capital to decry the deal ahead of the vote. Greeks believe the agreement allows the neighboring state, which has been known as the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM), to appropriate their cultural heritage, as Greece also has a region named Macedonia – historically considered the birthplace of Alexander the Great.

On Sunday, thousands of people marched through Athens. Tensions ran high and the demonstrations spiraled into violent scuffles between the protesters and police, prompting law enforcement to use tear gas against the crowds.

Just ahead of the vote, on Thursday, police once again used tear gas to disperse large crowds gathered in the center of the Greek capital. More than 2,000 protesters gathered outside parliament during the debates.

Separately, the Greek Communist Party held a rally in front of the US Embassy in Athens to protest the deal. Demonstrators burned the flags of the US, EU, and NATO to show their discontent with the agreement, which is actively supported by the West and is seen as a way to allow Macedonia to join the alliance.

The controversial deal did not win support from the Macedonian public either. The Macedonian population largely boycotted the referendum on the issue last year, despite the best efforts of the US-backed government. Only 36.9 percent of eligible voters participated, rendering the referendum invalid.

The Macedonian parliament still managed to greenlight the deal in another narrow vote. Many opposition MPs chose to boycott the parliamentary vote and the ruling coalition was barely able to secure the required majority of 80 out of 120 votes.

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