SKOPJE, Macedonia (AP) — 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.
In a joint press release, the government and a group of former opposition conservative lawmakers who had been wavering said the two-thirds majority had been secured. Earlier, a spokesman for the governing Social Democrats said the ethnic Albanian lawmakers had also agreed to back the deal.
Changing the name will bring an end to the 27-year dispute with Greece, which complained that the small landlocked country's current name implied claims on its own territory and cultural heritage, which Macedonia denied. The deal encountered strong opposition on both sides of the border, with critics saying it offered too many concessions to the other side.
Hundreds of Macedonian opposition supporters were protesting in front of the parliament for a third day Friday, demanding early elections and the dissolution of parliament.
Macedonian approval of the name change does not end the issue though. The Greek government is struggling to hold up its end of the bargain, and is struggling to secure the political support required to ratify the agreement reached last June.
Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has said he wants to bring the deal — which has brought his coalition government to the brink of breakup — to parliament in coming weeks.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel expressed strong support for the agreement during a working visit to Athens Friday.