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Greek Minister In Macedonia To Discuss Name Dispute

Macedonian Foreign Minister Nikola Dimitrov (right) and Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias in Skopje on August 31.
Macedonian Foreign Minister Nikola Dimitrov (right) and Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias in Skopje on August 31.

Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias has traveled to Macedonia for talks on settling a decades-old dispute over the name of the former Yugoslav republic, ahead of UN-mediated talks later this month.

Kotzias is set to meet his counterpart, Nikola Dimitrov, and Prime Minister Zoran Zaev in Skopje on March 23 to discuss draft proposals the two sides recently exchanged for resolving the dispute. He will also hold talks with opposition leaders.

Kotzias' flight to the Macedonian capital was the first direct one from Athens to Skopje in more than 10 years.

It was made possible after Macedonian authorities renamed Skopje’s airport from Alexander the Great -- the famed ruler of the ancient Kingdom of Macedonia, who is also celebrated in Greece -- to Skopje International Airport in a goodwill gesture to Athens.

Greece objects to the former Yugoslav republic's use of the name Macedonia, which Athens says could imply territorial claims over its own northern region of the same name.

Negotiations between the two neighbors have been inconclusive since 1991, when Macedonia gained independence from the former Yugoslavia.

The row has hampered Macedonia's efforts to join NATO and the EU. Greece is a member of both entities.

Skopje and Athens have recently stepped up United Nations-brokered negotiations to resolve the dispute, and the Greek and Macedonian foreign ministers are to meet again in Vienna on March 30 at talks hosted by UN special envoy Matthew Nimetz.

Macedonia has said it was ready to add a geographical qualifier to its name to help resolve the dispute. An agreement could include Macedonia adding "Upper," "New," or "North" to its name.

But mass protests in both countries are an indication of popular resistance to any compromise.

On March 4, about 10,000 people took to the streets of the Macedonian capital to protest a possible change to the name of the country. A demonstration in Athens drew tens of thousands of people a month earlier.

With reporting by AP and dpa