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Macedonia Plans Autumn Referendum On New Name

Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev addresses journalists during a press conference to mark the first year of his government's work in front of the government building in Skopje on May 30.

Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev says that talks between Macedonia and neighboring Greece on his country’s name are in a “final” phase, adding that a referendum on whatever solution is found will be held in the autumn.

“Today, tomorrow, or on Friday at the latest, I will speak with [Greek Prime Minister Alexis] Tsipras, after which I expect a breakthrough in the talks,” Zaev said on May 30 at a news conference marking one year since he took office.

The name dispute between Macedonia and Greece dates back to 1991, when Skopje declared independence following the collapse of communist Yugoslavia.

Athens objects to Macedonia's name because it has a northern province called Macedonia and fears it may imply territorial ambitions.

The dispute has hampered Macedonia's ambitions to join both the European Union and NATO.

Zaev did not reveal any details about the possible compromise name or names that are currently on the table, but said that in any case Macedonia’s identity would be protected.

Any new name for his country that is agreed with Greece will be put to a referendum to be held “in September or October, when we expect the citizens to give us directions for our future moves,” he also said.

Before the referendum is held, Zaev said the expected agreement would be put to parliament for ratification in order to allow Greece to lift its blockade in NATO ahead of the military alliance’s summit in July.

Greece has said it is prepared to lift its objection to Macedonia's membership in NATO if an agreement on the name issue can be reached.

After meeting in Brussels on May 28, the foreign ministers of Greece and Macedonia said that they have completed the main round of negotiations on the contentious issue and were ready to hand the final stage over to the countries' prime ministers.

With reporting by AP and Balkan Insight