Macedonia president says he won't approve name deal with Greece

SKOPJE/ATHENS, June 13 (Reuters) - Macedonia's president said on Wednesday he would not sign a landmark deal reached with Greece on changing his country's name, dashing hopes of a swift end to a diplomatic dispute that has blocked Skopje's bid to join the European Union and NATO.

In Greece too, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras faced a barrage of criticism and the prospect of a no-confidence vote against his government after he and Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev announced the accord late on Tuesday.

Under the deal, Macedonia would become formally known as 'the Republic of Severna (Northern) Macedonia'. It is currently known officially at the United Nations as the 'Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia'.

Athens has long objected to its northern neighbor's use of the name 'Macedonia', saying it implies territorial claims on a northern Greek province of that name and also amounts to appropriation of Greece's ancient cultural heritage.

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Scenes from Macedonia following split from Greece
A man passes in front of a graffiti with an old map of Macedonia referring to the long-running name row with neighbouring Greece, in Skopje on June 13, 2018, a day after Greece and Macedonia resolved the row by agreeing to rename the country 'Republic of North Macedonia'. - Greeks and Macedonians expressed scepticism on June 13, 2018 over a proposed compromise deal to end a nearly three-decade name row between their countries which has blocked Skopje's bid to join the EU and NATO. The leaders of the neighbouring countries hailed a 'historic' agreement on June 12 to rename the tiny Balkan nation the Republic of North Macedonia after months of intensive talks. (Photo by Robert ATANASOVSKI / AFP) (Photo credit should read ROBERT ATANASOVSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
SKOPJE, MACEDONIA - JUNE 12. Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev (C) speaks during a press conference at the government building in Skopje, Macedonia on June 12, 2018. The name of the ex-Yugoslav republic since its independence in 1991, has led to disputes between Athens and Skopje for nearly three decades. The two sides agreed on June 12, 2018, that the country should be renamed as 'Republic of North Macedonia. (Photo by Admir Fazlagikj/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
SKOPJE, MACEDONIA - JUNE 12. Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev (C) speaks during a press conference at the government building in Skopje, Macedonia on June 12, 2018. The name of the ex-Yugoslav republic since its independence in 1991, has led to disputes between Athens and Skopje for nearly three decades. The two sides agreed on June 12, 2018, that the country should be renamed as 'Republic of North Macedonia. (Photo by Admir Fazlagikj/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
SKOPJE, MACEDONIA - JUNE 12. Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev (C) speaks during a press conference at the government building in Skopje, Macedonia on June 12, 2018. The name of the ex-Yugoslav republic since its independence in 1991, has led to disputes between Athens and Skopje for nearly three decades. The two sides agreed on June 12, 2018, that the country should be renamed as 'Republic of North Macedonia. (Photo by Admir Fazlagikj/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
People gather near the banks of the Vardar river in front of the Museum of Archaeology in central Skopje, Macedonia, May 29, 2018. REUTERS/Marko Djurica SEARCH "DJURICA MACEDONIA" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
A man walks on the Stone Bridge over the Vardar river in central Skopje, Macedonia, June 1, 2018. REUTERS/Marko Djurica SEARCH "DJURICA MACEDONIA" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
A couple sits on a bench in central Skopje, Macedonia, June 1, 2018. REUTERS/Marko Djurica SEARCH "DJURICA MACEDONIA" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Emilija, who works as a receptionist in a hotel, poses for a for a portrait in on old part of Ohrid, Macedonia, June 4, 2018. Emilija expects "living standard to change for better once the country joins EU and NATO. Greeks come here as tourists and we are friends, I can say only good things about them. It is only politics that is causing trouble between people," she said. REUTERS/Marko Djurica SEARCH "DJURICA MACEDONIA" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
A couple sits on a bench at the bank of Vardar river in central Skopje, Macedonia, June 1, 2018. REUTERS/Marko Djurica SEARCH "DJURICA MACEDONIA" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Macedonian soldiers patrol at the Macedonia-Greece border near Gevgelija, Macedonia, June 3, 2018. REUTERS/Marko Djurica SEARCH "DJURICA MACEDONIA" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
A boat sails through the Ohrid lake in Ohrid, Macedonia, June 4, 2018. REUTERS/Marko Djurica SEARCH "DJURICA MACEDONIA" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
People visit the Church of St. John the Theologian, Kaneo in Ohrid, Macedonia, June 3, 2018. REUTERS/Marko Djurica SEARCH "DJURICA MACEDONIA" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
A man swims in the Ohrid lake in the village of Trpejca, Macedonia, June 3, 2018. REUTERS/Marko Djurica SEARCH "DJURICA MACEDONIA" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
People sit in a bar in Stara Carsija (Old Bazaar) part of central Skopje, Macedonia, June 1, 2018. REUTERS/Marko Djurica SEARCH "DJURICA MACEDONIA" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
People travel on a bus in the village of Mralino near Skopje, Macedonia, May 31, 2018. REUTERS/Marko Djurica SEARCH "DJURICA MACEDONIA" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES. TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY.
A Macedonian flag is pictured in front of the "warrior monument" in central Skopje, Macedonia, May 31, 2018. It is widely believed that the statue is a depiction of Philip of Macedon. REUTERS/Marko Djurica SEARCH "DJURICA MACEDONIA" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
A girl imitates the Mother Teresa monument in central Skopje, Macedonia, May 31, 2018. REUTERS/Marko Djurica SEARCH "DJURICA MACEDONIA" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
A barman makes cocktails in a bar in central Skopje, Macedonia, May 31, 2018. REUTERS/Marko Djurica SEARCH "DJURICA MACEDONIA" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
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"My position is final and I will not yield to any pressure, blackmail or threats. I will not support or sign such a damaging agreement," Macedonian President Gjorge Ivanov told a news conference in Skopje.

Ivanov, who is backed by the nationalist opposition VMRO-DPMNE, can veto the deal. Macedonia's center-left government also needs a two-thirds majority to win parliamentary approval and this would require the backing of VMRO-DPMNE, which is strongly opposed to the accord.

The president also said Macedonia's possible future membership of the EU and NATO was not sufficient excuse to sign such a "bad agreement."

The accord must be approved by Macedonians in a referendum as well as by the parliaments of both countries.

"We will oppose this deal of capitulation with all democratic and legal means," VMRO-DPMNE head Hristijan Mickoski told a news conference, branding the agreement "an absolute defeat for Macedonian diplomacy."

 

"DEEPLY PROBLEMATIC"

In Athens, where Tsipras is also trying to negotiate a definitive exit from financial bailouts which have traumatized Greece, resistance to the Macedonia deal was growing.

A source in Greece's main opposition party, New Democracy, said it planned to submit a motion of no-confidence in the Tsipras government over the deal.

New Democracy will submit the motion after the conclusion of a debate on bailout reforms scheduled to wrap up late on Thursday, the source told Reuters.

If the motion is submitted, it would be the first since Tsipras, a leftist, won elections in September 2015, testing the unity of his governing left-right coalition.

New Democracy leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis called the Macedonia deal "deeply problematic" because he said most Greeks were against it and Tsipras lacked the authority to sign it.

"We are in a situation that is unprecedented in Greece's constitutional history. A prime minister without a clear parliamentary mandate willing to commit the country to a reality which will not be possible to change," Mitsotakis said.

In a front-page editorial, conservative daily Eleftheros Typos called the agreement "the surrender of the Macedonian identity and language," while the center-right Kathimerini newspaper referred to "a deal with gaps and question marks."

For some Greeks the compromise deal over Macedonia was the final straw after nine years of painful austerity under three international bailouts.

"We have lost, we retreated," said 40-year old Stamatia Valtadorou, a private sector employee. "It's one thing to sell off a part of yourself for a bailout and a different thing to sell off your land, it hurts deeply." (Writing by George Georgiopoulos and Michele Kambas, Additional reporting by Angeliki Koutantou in Athens and Daria Sito-Sucic in Sarajevo Editing by Gareth Jones)

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