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Greece narrowly approves North Macedonia name change

By Nicholas Sakelaris
Greece narrowly approves North Macedonia name change
Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras celebrates next to the members of the government after the voting of the Prespa Accord at the Greek Parliament Friday. The agreement allows the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia to change its name to The Republic of North Macedonia. Photo by Alexandros Beltes/EPA-EFE

Jan. 25 (UPI) -- Greek lawmakers narrowly approved the Prespa Accord Friday, officially clearing the way for the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia to change its name to the Republic of North Macedonia.

The 153-146 vote highlighted the divide in the Mediterranean country over changing the name of its neighbor to the north. One lawmaker abstained from voting.

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Opponents don't want the Slavic country to have any claim to the name Macedonia, which is also a region in northern Greece. The nationalist Golden Dawn MPs chanted "traitors, traitors" to fellow lawmakers who supported the agreement.

Many Greeks fear that under a new name, the Republic of North Macedonia could have territorial ambitions for the Greek region of Macedonia. The accord prohibits either side from claiming any kind of territorial expansion.

The Macedonian parliament already approved the constitutional changes for the new name. The accord also allows the country to join NATO and the EU.

This ends 27 years of strife between the two countries since Yugoslavia broke up in 1991.

"For us in Greece this issue is one of the most sensitive matters for the country," Adonis Georgiadis, vice president of New Democracy, told The New York Times. "If you ask me what I am, I'm a Macedonian, and I am Greek."

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Protesters took to the streets of Athens waving Greek flags and chanting "Hands off, Macedonia." Some of the clashes turned violent with molotov cocktails, rocks and flares. Police responded with tear gas to disperse the crowds.

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