Greece and Macedonia reach historic accord on name row: Greek official

A man holds a Greek flag next to a statue of Alexander the Great. Credit PA

Greece and Macedonia have reached an agreement over the latter's name after a dispute that has lasted since the break up of the former Yugoslavia.

Mitsotakis said that Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras did not have any "political legitimacy" to commit the country to a deal that is not approved by his junior government coalition partner, the Independent Greeks (ANEL).

"I have good news. a while ago we reached an agreement with the Prime Minister of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia on an issue which has been on our minds for many years", Mr Tsipras told Greek President Prokopis Pavlopoulos during a televised meeting.

The name would be the Republic of North Macedonia, subject to approval.

Athens has long objected to its neighbour's constitutional name - the Republic of Macedonia - because it fears it could imply territorial ambitions. Macedonia is the birthplace of Alexander the Great.

The long-running dispute has centred on Greece's objection to Macedonia's name, which has prompted it to block its neighbour from joining North Atlantic Treaty Organisation and the European Union until it is changed.

"We have been solving a two-and-a-half decade dispute ... that has been drowning the country", he said, adding that the deal "will strengthen the Macedonian identity". "The negotiations and the successful proposal for solution became possible after the Government of Zoran Zaev came in to power in Skopje, ending the years of pointless denial of the conservatives in Skopje".

Macedonia's new name will be put up for a referendum, to be held in autumn.

Many Greeks felt their northern neighbor was trying to hijack Greece's ancient cultural heritage.

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras. Credit PA
Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras. Credit PA

Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama called his Macedonian and Greek counterparts "two progressive leaders" and used their Twitter handles to give their praise, tweeting: "Balkans are today a better place thnx to you both".

Both Albania and Macedonia hope to launch full membership negotiations with the European Union.

'I am keeping my fingers crossed, ' he said.

"This historic agreement is testament to many years of patient diplomacy and to the willingness of these two leaders to solve a dispute which has affected the region for too long", said Jens Stoltenberg, Secretary-General of North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. "Thanks to you, the impossible is becoming possible", he said.

Mr Tsipras added: "The name change will be implemented not only the country's global relations but also domestically".

In a statement, the Party of European Socialists (PES) welcomed the agreement reached by the two Prime Ministers.

Veteran United Nations diplomat Matthew Nimetz, who has been a mediator in the name dispute since 1994, hailed the "leadership, vision and determination" of the foreign ministers of Greece and Macedonia, who have negotiated for months.

Organizers of past rallies in Greece's main cities against a compromise with Macedonia also expressed outrage at the deal, with one accusing Tsipras of "high treason".

"In essence, the (deal) is acceptance of all Greek positions", VMRO-DPMNE leader Hristijan Mickoski said.

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