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Delay Expected As Opposition Emerges To Settling Macedonia Name Dispute

Macedonian President Gjorge Ivanov
Macedonian President Gjorge Ivanov

A deal resolving a decades-old dispute with Greece over Macedonia's name is not likely to be reached in coming days, a Greek government official said on June 1.

The apparent delay in announcing what would be a landmark settlement over the long-running dispute came as opposition has re-emerged in both countries to proposals to give the Balkan country a new name like "Upper Macedonia" or "New Macedonia."

Macedonia's opposition has called for protests against a name change on the evening of June 2. Greek activists were also planning demonstrations against a possible settlement on June 6, which they claimed would attract as many as 3 million people.

The delay also came one day after Macedonian President Gjorge Ivanov issued a statement saying he would oppose any name change that alters the way Macedonians refer to their country or that requires a change in the country's constitution.

Macedonia and Greece have held intensive talks this year to resolve the name dispute, which has blocked the amall Balkan state's hopes to join NATO and the European Union. Their aim had been to announce a settlement before an EU summit in late June.

Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias said earlier this week that he and his Macedonian counterpart Nikola Dimitrov had concluded talks on the issue and their prime ministers were expected to take over to negotiate a final deal.

The two leaders were expected to discuss the issue over the phone on June 1.

But the Greek official said that top-level phone call was likely to be postponed, and "the chances of a deal within the coming days seem to be getting slimmer."

He said the reason was that Skopje was not "ready to respond" to what was agreed between the two ministers.

Earlier, Greek government spokesman Dimitris Tzanakopoulos said there were still legal and political issues to be resolved.

A Macedonian government official said talk of a delay in resolution of the name issue amounted to "speculation."

"Responsible political behavior by all political factors in both countries is of the greatest benefit and serves the interest of finding a solution," he said.

Macedonia's dispute with Greece dates back to 1991, when it peacefully broke away from Yugoslavia, declaring its independence under the name Republic of Macedonia.

Athens objected to its neighbor's new name, saying it implied a territorial claim over Greece's northern province of Macedonia, which borders the Balkan country.

Because of Greek objections, Macedonia was admitted to the United Nations with only a provisional name, Former Yugolsav Republic of Macedonia.

As an EU and NATO member, Greece has also cited the dispute in blocking Macedonia's bid to join those alliances.

Both countries are under pressure to resolve the dispute, as Western leaders have said the integration of Balkan countries into the EU and NATO is the best way to improve stability in the region.

With reporting by AP and Reuters
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