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Tuesday June 18th, 2019 9:28AM

Greek parliament set to back Macedonia's NATO accession

By The Associated Press
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ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Greek lawmakers are set Friday to approve Macedonia's NATO accession, ending a process to normalize relations between the two neighbors and anchor the country — renamed North Macedonia — firmly within the western sphere of influence.

Greek opposition parties reject the move, arguing that the name deal, which will end a 27-year dispute, concedes too much to Macedonia. But the left-led government in Athens controls enough seats in parliament to win the vote, which is expected Friday evening.

"(We) will vote against the accession protocol because it is, simply, the final act or the final act of a damaging agreement," conservative opposition leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis told parliament to applause from members of his party.

Greece and the former Yugoslav republic — independent since 1991 — struck the historic agreement last summer, despite protests from opposition parties, and ratified it in parliament.

Greek approval of Macedonia's NATO accession bid is the final step in the deal. Provided lawmakers vote for the motion, Greece's foreign ministry will promptly notify the Macedonian government of the result.

Macedonia will then write to the United Nations, its member states and international organizations, formally announcing the name change.

Government spokesman Mile Boshnjakovski told The Associated Press this would happen "in coming days."

The two countries remained deadlocked over Macedonia's name for the duration of the younger country's existence but then left-led governments were elected in both countries that were less vulnerable to nationalist pressure.

The main catalyst for the change was Macedonia's wish to join NATO, and, eventually, the European Union, and western countries' desire to diminish Russian influence in the region.

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras faced larges demonstrations against the deal, while opinion polls showed that more than two-thirds of Greeks oppose it. The agreement also nearly toppled his government last month after triggering the breakup of his coalition with the nationalist Independent Greeks party.

Tsipras cobbled a slim majority together with the support of several independent lawmakers, but the split saw former defense minister Panos Kammenos' Independent Greeks likely to lose their party representation in parliament, prompting a bitter exchange late Friday between the two former allies.

"I want you to know that the execution (of our party) doesn't that much. Obviously it means absolutely nothing to you. You have proved yourself to be a very cold (political) assassin," Kammenos told the prime minister. "But the execution of Macedonia does mean a lot."

___

Testorides reported from Skopje, Macedonia. Derek Gatopoulos in Athens contributed.

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