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Tuesday June 2nd, 2020 4:26PM

The Latest: Macedonian PM congratulates Greek counterpart

By The Associated Press
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ATHENS, Greece (AP) — The Latest on ratification of an agreement to resolve the place name dispute between Greece and Macedonia (all times local):

4:20 p.m.

Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev has congratulated Greece following Friday's vote in the Greek Parliament to ratify the deal normalizing relations between the two countries.

In a message to the Greek prime minister, Zaev wrote in English on Twitter: "Congratulations my friend, Alexis Tsipras. Together with our peoples we reached a historical victory. Long live the Prespa Agreement! For eternal peace and progress of the Balkans and in Europe!"

Both prime ministers faced fierce political opposition and struggled to ratify the deal reached last summer at Lake Prespa, which borders both countries and Albania.

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4:10 p.m.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg is welcoming the Greek parliament's ratification of the Macedonia name agreement, which paves the way for Skopje to join the world's biggest military alliance.

Stoltenberg said in a tweet Friday that the vote is "an important contribution to the stability and prosperity of the whole region."

He added: "I look forward to the future Republic of North Macedonia joining NATO."

Efforts by the government in Skopje to join NATO have been blocked almost exclusively by the disagreement with ally Greece over the Balkan country's name.

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3:55 p.m.

Top European Union officials are hailing as a historic moment the Greek parliament's ratification of the Macedonia name agreement, paving the way for the Balkan country to join NATO.

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, the EU's top diplomat and the senior official supervising the bloc's enlargement, said jointly Friday that they "warmly welcome" the vote in Athens, which has "written a new page of our common EU future."

They say that "it took political courage, leadership and responsibility on all sides to resolve one of the most entrenched disputes in the region. Both countries have seized this unique opportunity, which sets an example of reconciliation for Europe as a whole and will give a further boost to the European perspective of the region."

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3:30 p.m.

Greek lawmakers have ratified an agreement for the country to drop its objections to neighboring Macedonia joining NATO if the small country's name is changed to North Macedonia.

The deal faced fierce opposition and had already cost Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras his parliamentary majority. It passed Friday with the support of independent lawmakers.

The ratification vote came after three days of acrimonious debate on the deal, which aimed to end a nearly three decade-long dispute that has kept Macedonia from joining the western military alliance and the European Union.

Greece has long argued use of the term Macedonia implied territorial claims on its own northern province of the same name, and usurped its culture and ancient Greek history.

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11:55 a.m.

Greek lawmakers are to wrap up three days of acrimonious parliamentary debate with a vote on a deal normalizing relations with Macedonia, under which Greece's northern neighbor will rename itself North Macedonia and Athens will drop its objections to the country joining NATO.

More protests were scheduled in Athens and the northern city of Thessaloniki Friday. Opposition is particularly fierce in the northern Greek region of Macedonia, which borders the former Yugoslav republic that claimed the same name after declaring independence in 1991. Critics claim the deal signs away their identity and a cultural heritage dating back to Alexander the Great more than 2,300 years ago.

The agreement has already cost Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras his parliamentary majority after the right-wing Independent Greeks quit the governing coalition in protest.

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