World Bulletin / News Desk
The Macedonian parliament ratified on Tuesday a historic accord with Greece to rename the small Balkan nation the Republic of North Macedonia, clearing another hurdle towards ending a 27-year-long row between the two neighbours.
If the public back the name change, the government will then have to change the constitution -- a key Greek demand before its own parliament is asked to ratify the deal.
Members of nationalist party VMRO-DPMNE, the main Macedonian opposition, did not turn up for the parliamentary vote.
The party has repeatedly said it will not support the change of "Macedonia's constitutional name", arguing it erodes the country's identity.
A few dozen people opposed to the name change also protested outside parliament while the vote took place.
The parliamentary vote came after a deal was signed on Sunday by the foreign ministers from the two countries at Lake Prespa on Greece's northern border.
In exchange for the deal Skopje hopes to secure a date to begin European Union accession talks at a summit in late June and an invitation to join NATO in mid-July.
But Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras warned at the weekend that Macedonia has to change its constitution -- which requires a two-thirds majority -- otherwise its plans to join the EU and NATO would be blocked.
Since 1991, Athens has objected to its neighbour being called Macedonia because it has its own northern province of the same name, which in ancient times was the cradle of Alexander the Great's empire -- a source of intense pride for modern-day Greeks.
Macedonia was admitted to the United Nations in 1993 under the provisional name of the "Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia".
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