ATHENS, Greece – Greek parliamentarians have ratified an agreement on Friday to end a nearly three decades dispute over the neighboring name of Macedonia, in a historic vote that will see the small country renamed Northern Macedonia and will pave the way for membership BORN.
The agreement was approved with 153 votes in the parliament of the 300 members, two more than necessary. He has been strongly opposed in both countries, and recently Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has cost him his parliamentary majority after a small right-wing party left the government coalition in protest. It has passed with the support of independent legislators.
Tsipras' left-wing Syriza party holds 145 seats in parliament, six of which are short of the majority.
"Today is a historic day," said Tsipras. "Greece is safeguarding an important part of its history, its heritage of ancient Greek Macedonia.Today we are writing a new page for the Balkans".
Under the agreement, Macedonia changes its name to Northern Macedonia and Greece gives its objections to the country joining NATO and eventually to the European Union.
"Congratulations, my friend Alexi Tsipras, together with our peoples we have achieved a historic victory", Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev tweeted.
The ratification was quickly accepted by NATO and the European Union.
Friday's vote was "an important contribution to the stability and prosperity of the entire region", tweeted NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg. "I look forward to the future Republic of North Macedonia joining NATO".
The ratification came after three days of tough parliamentary debates and numerous street demonstrations, some of which have become violent. A demonstration last Sunday saw tens of thousands of people gather outside the parliament, with clashes erupting between groups of protesters and riot police.
Torrential rain and driving wind kept many protestors away on the last day of the debate. Dozens of protesters who defied the weather outside the parliament sang "traitors" while the legislators voted inside.
The main EU officials said that ratification has "written a new page of our common future of the EU".
European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, the leading EU diplomat and senior official overseeing the blockade's enlargement, said he "took political courage, leadership and responsibility from all parts to solve one of the most rooted disputes in the region ".
Greece has long supported the use of the term territorial claims of Macedonia in its northern province of the same name. The issue has been controversial for decades, hindering repeated rounds of UN-mediated negotiations and fueling nationalist and patriotic sentiments in both countries.
The opposition was particularly fierce in the northern region of Macedonia, which borders the republic that proclaimed the same name after declaring independence from the former Yugoslavia in 1991. Critics said the agreement marks their identity and cultural heritage dating back to Alexander the Great more than 2,300 years ago.
More than 150 people have been arrested for interrogation since Thursday following violence during the demonstrations against the agreement in Athens and in two cities in northern Greece. Most were released without charge.
At least two legislators of the Syriza ruling party have declared that their houses have been targeted by violent demonstrators, while another was targeted by a bombing that did not cause injuries. The Greek tourism minister, an independent conservative who supports the government, said he had received multiple death threats.
Derek Gatopoulos in Athens and Lorne Cook in Brussels contributed to this relationship.
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