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Macedonia Renames Airport, Highway In Bid To Settle Row With Greece

Greece has long been irked by Macedonia claims to Alexander The Great. This giant statue was installed in Skopje in 2011

Macedonia's Prime Minister Zoran Zaev says his country is ready to add a geographical qualifier to its name in a bid to resolve a 27-year-old dispute with neighboring Greece over the name of the former Yugoslav republic.

"I want the negotiation process [with Greece] to succeed, we are ready for a geographic designation and I will stop here since I know this is a sensitive issue," Zaev on February 6 in the Macedonian capital, Skopje.

Greece's objections to Skopje’s use of the name Macedonia since the country's independence in 1991 has complicated bids by the former Yugoslav republic to join the European Union and NATO.

Athens says the use of the name Macedonia suggests Skopje has territorial claims to Greece's northern region of Macedonia.

Leaders of the two countries have said progress has recently been made in settling the dispute, with indications that any agreement could include Macedonia adding "Upper," "New," or "North" to its name.

The Macedonian government on February 6 officially renamed the country’s main airport and a north-south highway, both previously named after Alexander the Great, the famed ruler of the ancient Kingdom of Macedonia who is also celebrated in Greece.

The capital’s airport was renamed International Airport Skopje and the highway became the Friendship Highway.

"With today's decision ... we are confirming our step toward building friendship and confidence with Greece," Zaev said.

The Macedonian prime minister was speaking after tens of thousands of people demonstrated in Athens on February 4 against any solution that would include the name Macedonia.

The Greek government has said it is prepared to accept a composite name that is clearly distinct from Greek Macedonia.

Matthew Nimetz, the UN envoy dealing with the matter, voiced optimism on February 1 that the Balkan neighbors could end the dispute during 2018.

At the UN, Macedonia is formally known as the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM).

However, the Security Council has agreed that it is a provisional name.

Macedonia has also been admitted to the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund under the FYROM moniker.

Most countries, including Russia and the United States, recognize the country's constitutional title, the Republic of Macedonia.

With reporting by AFP and Reuters