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Macedonia Name Change Goes To Parliament For Vote This Week

Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev (file photo)

Macedonia's government has asked parliament to start the process of amending the constitution to change the country's name, as called for under a deal with neighboring Greece to pave the way for Skopje to join NATO and the European Union.

Government spokesman Mile Boshnjakovski said the proposed name change to Republic of North Macedonia and other modifications to the constitution's preamble and two articles were sent to the parliament for action on October 8.

The request follows a September 30 referendum on the name deal, which was overwhelmingly approved by those who voted, but the nonbinding referendum was ruled invalid due to low turnout by voters.

Parliament is expected to take up the government's request on October 9. Prime Minister Zoran Zaev is believed to be about a dozen votes short of having the two-thirds majority of votes needed to approve the proposed changes in the 120-seat parliament.

Zaev has been pressuring nationalist opposition lawmakers to back the change so the country can finally open a path to membership in NATO and the EU after espousing that goal for decades.

"Now all deputies in parliament, no matter which party they are from, have the historical duty and obligation before the citizens to secure the road for Macedonia toward stability, security, and economic prosperity," Boshnjakovski told a press conference after the government sent the legislative package to parliament.

However, the main opposition party, the nationalist VMRO-DPMNE, has vowed to defeat the legislation, maintaining that it was already rejected by voters because of the poor turnout of only 34 percent for the referendum. To be valid, a referendum requires a turnout of more than 50 percent.

Zaev has said he will call early elections if the amendments fail to pass in parliament. He came to power after elections 22 months ago.

Under the deal with Greece, in exchange for Macedonia changing its name, Athens agreed to lift its objections to the former Yugoslav republic joining both NATO and the EU -- obstacles that had blocked Skopje's bid to join the Western bloc for decades.

Greece for years maintained that Macedonia's name implied the Balkan nation had territorial claims to its northern province of the same name.

With reporting by AP, dpa, and Reuters
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