Oct. 19 (UPI) -- Macedonia's Parliament voted Friday to push ahead with a plan to change its name to settle a decades-long dispute with Greece.
The former Yugoslav Republic has been Macedonia since 1991, but the name has caused a rift with Greece because it has a region that bears the same name and wants to lay claim to the ancient culture.
Macedonian lawmakers voted 90-39 to change the country's name to the Republic of North Macedonia, adding a geographic designation to distinguish itself from Greece's province.
The vote opens the name change procedure, allowing legislators to debate the issue and prepare the constitutional amendments required for the change to take place.
Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev supports the change and admitting the nation to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and European Union. He called it a "historic day" in a series of posts on Twitter.
"Our journey toward a better future, toward our EU and NATO membership, has just begun," he wrote. "Work will continue through the parliamentary process for harmonization of the amendments to the Constitution. We will work on reconciliation, forgiveness and national unification."
In a national vote on Sept. 30 more than 90 percent of voters approved the name change. But because only 37 percent of eligible voters showed up, the election wasn't binding.
Macedonia wants to finish the deal before March, when Greece will have its own elections and politicians opposed to the deal could be elected.
Many Greeks oppose the new name and protested Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras for supporting the deal. Tsipras fended off an attempt to remove him from office in June.
The U.S. administration supports the name change.
"The United States strongly supports the Agreement's full implementation, which will allow Macedonia to take its rightful place in NATO and the EU, contributing to regional stability, security, and prosperity," the State Department said in a statement.