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Greek PM Survives No-Confidence Vote Over Macedonia Name Deal


Greeks Protest Against Macedonia Name Deal
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Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has survived a no-confidence vote in parliament over a deal to end a decades-old dispute over the name of neighboring Macedonia.

Lawmakers on June 16 backed Tsipras by rejecting the motion brought by the opposition New Democracy party, which had had accused him of granting too many concessions in the deal with Macedonia set to be signed on June 17.

"Out of 280 lawmakers present, 153 voted against the motion," speaker Yiorgis Varemenos said hours before the foreign ministers of Greece and Macedonia were set to meet on the border to sign the deal, which will change the name of the former Yugoslav state.

Thousands of Greeks protested against the deal outside parliament on the day of the no-confidence motion, calling for the prime minister's resignation. Police fired tear gas at protesters to keep them from entering the building.

Up to 5,000 protesters gathered in the central Syntagma Square in the Greek capital on June 16, many of them chanting "traitors, traitors" in anger over the accord signed by the two countries earlier this week.

The agreement to change the name of Greece's northern neighbor to the Republic of North Macedonia has been welcomed by the United Nations, the European Union, the United States, and NATO.

But it has met with strong opposition internally in both countries, which could pose obstacles and delays for its ratification in their national parliaments.

Greece's main opposition party denounced the deal as a capitulation and called for the confidence vote in parliament, while Macedonia's nationalist President Gjorge Ivanov pledged to veto the deal if it is ratified by Skopje's parliament.

Small street protests have also broken out against the deal in Macedonia and among Greeks who object to their Balkan neighbor using the same name as Greece's northernmost province.

Macedonia in ancient times was the cradle of Alexander the Great's empire, and remains a source of intense pride among modern-day Greeks.

"Nobody can be called Macedonians except the Greeks," protest organizer Michalis Patsikas has said.

But Tsipras, confident he will prevail in parliament, has dismissed the opposition. He has argued that the pact will help stabilize the historically volatile Balkan region and nurture prosperity in Southern Europe.

"This is the most forward-looking deal the country has ever had in its hands," Interior Minister Panos Skourletis told parliament. "We are proud to put our name on a deal that takes a step for peace and cooperation."

By agreeing to change its name to North Macedonia under the deal, Skopje has won Greece's support for its efforts to join the European Union and NATO -- efforts Athens previously blocked for decades.

Macedonian leaders have said that with the deal in hand, they hope to secure a date to begin EU accession talks at an EU summit in late June, and an invitation to join NATO by mid-July.

Macedonians On Name Change: From 'Disastrous' To 'No Impact'
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Ahead of the no-confidence vote in Greece's parliament, tempers flared on June 15, with a lawmaker from the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party calling on the Greek Army to topple the government.

The lawmaker was evicted from the debate together with the rest of the party's lawmakers.

Tsipras's coalition government was expected to survive the vote in part because its nationalist coalition partner, the Independent Greeks party, is expected to support the government in the vote even though it opposes the deal with Macedonia.

As long as the governing coalition stays together, it controls a slim majority -- 154 of the 300 votes in the parliament.

Another demonstration is planned on the border during the signing ceremony on June 17.

Before the deal with Macedonia can go into effect, it must be ratified first by Macedonia's parliament and confirmed in a Macedonian referendum in September, after which Greece's parliament must ratify it.

With reporting by AFP, dpa, and AP
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