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Wednesday January 16th, 2019 3:09AM

The Latest: Macedonia's opposition decries name change vote

By The Associated Press
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SKOPJE, Macedonia (AP) — The Latest on Macedonia's change of name (all times local):

9:15 p.m.

Macedonia's conservative opposition leader has accused the government of securing parliamentary approval for a constitutional amendment changing the country's name by "blackmailing" lawmakers.

VMRO-DPMNE leader Hristjan Mickoski on Friday also urged Prime Minister Zoran Zaev to call an early election this spring.

Mickoski told reporters the move Friday to change the country's name to North Macedonia to appease neighboring Greece was made against the desires of the Macedonian people "and is an act of treason."

Macedonia's parliament approved the name change under a deal with Greece that will clear the way for Macedonia to join NATO and potentially the European Union.

___

9 p.m.

Albania has congratulated Macedonia's parliament vote on name change as "a clear demonstration of statesmanship unlocking NATO and EU path."

Foreign Minister Ditmir Bushati on Friday tweeted after the vote that "the contribution of Albanian political parties once again proved to be a decisive factor." Ethnic Albanians make up about a quarter of Macedonia's 2.1 million people.

Macedonia's parliament approved constitutional changes renaming the country North Macedonia, under a deal with neighboring Greece that will clear the way for Macedonia to join NATO and potentially the European Union.

Both Albania and Macedonia expect Brussels to decide to launch formal EU membership negotiations later this year.

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8:40 p.m.

Greece's prime minister has congratulated his Macedonian counterpart, Zoran Zaev, after Macedonia's parliament approved constitutional changes that fulfil its part of a deal to normalize relations with Greece.

Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras' office said he spoke to Zaev after Friday's vote. Greece had insisted that Macedonia change its name to North Macedonia before it would lift its objections to the country joining NATO and the European Union.

Tsipras has said once Greece is formally notified by Macedonia of the constitutional changes, he will swiftly launch the process of ratifying the agreement in Greece's parliament.

Although his junior coalition partner opposes the deal, Tsipras has voiced confidence he will be able to secure ratification with the backing of opposition lawmakers.

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8:15 p.m.

Macedonia's prime minister says his country's approval of constitutional changes to rename itself North Macedonia is a tough but necessary decision.

Prime Minister Zoran Zaev told lawmakers Friday that the deal with neighboring Greece, which insisted on the name change to lift its objections to Macedonia joining NATO and the European Union, was the best he could secure.

He stressed that without the deal, his country would be unable to become a member of NATO or the EU.

Opponents of the agreement, mostly supporters of the opposition conservative VMRO-DPMNE party, were holding a peaceful protest late Friday outside parliament in Skopje, the capital. VMRO says the deal concedes too much to Greece.

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7 p.m.

Macedonia's parliament has approved constitutional changes to rename the country North Macedonia, under a deal with neighboring Greece that will clear the way for Macedonia to join NATO and potentially the European Union.

All 81 lawmakers present voted in favor of the constitutional amendments. The remaining 39 opposition lawmakers stayed away.

Prime Minister Zoran Zaev had required a minimum 80 votes to have the changes ratified.

For the deal to come into effect, Greece's parliament must now convene in coming weeks to ratify it.

— This item corrects the number of opposition lawmakers staying away to 39.

___

6 p.m.

Macedonia's center-left government said Friday it has secured the required number of parliamentary votes to finalize constitutional changes that will rename the country North Macedonia and pave the way to NATO membership.

Macedonian lawmakers were convening later Friday to vote on the amendments, for which a super majority of two-thirds of the 120 members — or 80 votes — is required.

The name change follows an agreement with neighboring Greece, which in turn is bound by the terms of the deal to remove its objections to Macedonia joining NATO and then potentially the European Union.

Prime Minister Zoran Zaev's governing coalition needed opposition backing to get the required number of votes and had said Thursday it was struggling to achieve that after a small ethnic Albanian party raised last-minute objections.

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