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Merkel Urges Macedonians To Vote For Name Change, Possibility For EU, NATO Membership


Germany's Merkel In Macedonia For Talks Ahead Of Referendum
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German Chancellor Angela Merkel has called on Macedonians to vote in favor of a name change that would open the door to the Balkan country joining the European Union and NATO.

Merkel made her comments on September 8 after arriving in the Macedonian capital, Skopje, for talks with Prime Minister Zoran Zaev.

"This is a historic chance that a generation has only once," she said at a news conference with Zaev. "Don't stay at home. Seize the democratic opportunity to say what you think about the future of your country."

Merkel's visit comes in the wake of trips to Skopje by NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg on September 6 and Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz the following day.

On September 30, Macedonians will vote in a referendum posing the question: "Are you in favor of NATO and European Union membership and of accepting the name agreement between the Republic of Macedonia and Greece?"

Under the agreement, which was signed by Greece and Macedonia in June, Macedonia agreed to change its name to the Republic of North Macedonia, in response to Greek concerns that the name "Macedonia" implied territorial claims to the northern Greek region of the same name.

Macedonia will also be required to change part of its constitution.

The name dispute has blocked Macedonia's progress toward European integration for many years.

Although nationalists in both countries oppose the compromise, recent polling in Macedonia shows 57 percent favor changing the country's name if it will lead to membership in the EU and NATO. Twenty-two percent said they would vote against the referendum proposal.

A minimum of 50 percent of the electorate must take part in the referendum in order for it to be valid.

During their visits, Stoltenberg and Kurz urged Macedonians to vote affirmatively on September 30.

U.S. President Donald Trump wrote to his Macedonian counterpart, Gjorge Ivanov, on September 6, saying: "The agreement and Macedonia's membership in NATO will bolster security, stability, and prosperity throughout the entire region."

With reporting by AP and dpa