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Macedonian Parliament Again OKs Name Deal With Greece

Macedonian Foreign Minister Nikola Dimitrov (left) and Prime Minister Zoran Zeav congratulate each other after the Macedonian parliament first ratified the deal in Skopje on June 20.

Macedonia’s parliament has voted for a second time to ratify an agreement with Greece to change the former Yugoslav republic’s name, after the president temporarily blocked the deal.

A total of 69 Macedonian lawmakers in the 120-strong parliament on July 5 approved the accord to rename the country North Macedonia.

Legislators from the main opposition party, VMRO-DPMNE, abstained from the vote in protest at the agreement, which it described as "capitulation."

"The most important thing is that the deal does not jeopardize our independence," Foreign Minister Nikola Dimitrov said during the parliamentary debate. "On the contrary, [it] strengthens our independence by opening the doors to NATO and the European Union."

The agreement signed by the two countries' foreign ministers on June 17 was initially ratified by Macedonia's parliament on June 20.

But President Gjorge Ivanov refused to sign off on the deal, calling it a "criminal act" that violates the Balkan country's constitution.

Under the constitution, Ivanov can no longer stop the accord from going into effect after the second ratification vote.

The deal with Greece will require several more steps, including a referendum this autumn in Macedonia, before it can be fully implemented.

Opponents of the agreement on both sides of the border have staged a series of protests.

The name dispute between Skopje and Athens dates back to 1991, when Macedonia peacefully broke away from Yugoslavia, declaring its independence under the name Republic of Macedonia.

Neighboring Greece had objected to the name Macedonia, saying it implied territorial claims on the northern Greek region with the same name.

Because of Greek objections, Macedonia was admitted to the UN under a provisional name, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM).

Greece, an EU and NATO member, has also cited the dispute to veto Macedonia's bid to join the two organizations.

With reporting by AP