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Macedonia PM sees solution to Greece name dispute by July

AFP logoAFP 1/7/2018
Macedonia's Prime Minister Zoran Zaev, pictured in December 2017, has staked his political capital on solving the name issue with Greece © Provided by AFP Macedonia's Prime Minister Zoran Zaev, pictured in December 2017, has staked his political capital on solving the name issue with Greece

Macedonia and Greece have a real chance to solve a festering quarter-century-old name dispute by July, Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev said Sunday.

"I believe it's possible to find a solution by the end of the first semester of 2018," Zaev told Greece's Alpha TV in an interview.

The quarrel between Skopje and Athens dates back to Macedonia's declaration of independence from Yugoslavia in 1991 and has poisoned neighbourly relations.

From the outset Greece denied its neighbour the right to use the name Macedonia, which is also the name of a northern Greek region.

Elected last year, Zaev has staked his political capital on solving the name issue with Greece as a means to gain his country's accession to the European Union and NATO.

"Our strategic orientation is conclusively (towards) the EU and NATO," Zaev said in the interview aired Sunday.

In a Saturday interview, Greek PM Alexis Tsipras also said the time had come "for decisions (in 2018) to justify Greece's role as a leading force in the Balkans".

Negotiators from both sides are to hold talks in New York later this month.

There is also anger in Athens at perceived Macedonia efforts to appropriate Alexander the Great, the ancient conqueror who is one of the country's greatest military heroes.

Greece and the EU recognise the small landlocked country by its provisional name, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM), under which it was also admitted to the UN.

Skopje has long insisted that this designation was only provisional.

In Greece, there is already opposition in the north of the country to any solution including the name Macedonia, and the issue may split the Greek parliament, which will be called upon to ratify any deal.

Another possible hurdle is that Zaev has pledged to include the domestic opposition in the decision-making, and to put the issue to a referendum.

Contacts between the two neighbours have intensified in recent months.

In a visit to Skopje last year, Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias said Athens would back Macedonia's membership to both the EU and NATO as soon as the name row is resolved.

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