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Opposition Leader Tells Macedonians To Vote 'With Their Conscience' In Name-Change Referendum


VMRO-DPMNE leader Hristijan Mickoski speaks at a press conference at party headquarters in Skopje on September 11.

Macedonia's conservative opposition leader has told supporters to vote "with their conscience" in the upcoming referendum on changing the country's name.

The vote was up to "each individual, with their conscience and morals" to "decide what's best for their family and our beloved Macedonia," VMRO-DPMNE leader Hristijan Mickoski said in comments published on the party's website on September 12.

Mickoski, whose party opposes a deal Macedonia signed with Greece in June to change the name of the former Yugoslav republic, did not call for a boycott of the referendum set for September 30.

The deal changes Macedonia's name to the Republic of North Macedonia, ending a dispute with Greece that has lasted for decades.

Macedonia's center-left government of Prime Minister Zoran Zaev launched its referendum campaign earlier this week, urging people to support the name change.

The campaign has been supported by EU leaders and the United States.

If the name change is approved in the referendum, and Macedonia's constitution is changed, it will open the door for Macedonia to join the EU and NATO.

U.S. Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis will embark on September 16 on a trip to Skopje to "show U.S. support for Macedonia during NATO accession and continued U.S. commitment to peace and security in the region," the Defense Department said in a September 12 statement.

Mattis announced he would travel to Macedonia this weekend and he voiced concern about possible acts of "mischief" by Russia to try and block Macedonia's path to NATO membership.

U.S. Senator Ron Johnson, who sits on a Senate subcommittee overseeing European and regional security, traveled to the Macedonian capital on September 9.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel have also visited.

With reporting by AP
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