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1ST LEAD Macedonia PM Zaev offers olive branch to rivals for name deal support By Boris Babic, dpa

By our dpa-correspondent and Europe Online    auf Facebook posten  Auf Twitter posten  
Belgrade (dpa) - Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev offered an olive branch to the nationalist opposition on Monday at the start of a key debate on the proposed change to the country‘s name.

He urged his rivals to end the divisions, back the plan to rename the country North Macedonia and open the door to NATO membership and EU accession talks.

"The time has come to say ‘stop‘ to divisions, here is the chance to forgive," Zaev told lawmakers, referring to the parliamentary invasion in April 2017, in which he was injured by nationalists attempting to prevent him from taking over.

The "true unified voice" of Macedonia is the one "taking Macedonia to the Euro-Atlantic family," he said.

Several officials from the opposition VMRO party have been charged over the incident, while others from the nationalist party - which has governed for over a decade - face trials for corruption.

"Let us forgive and reconcile," Zaev said, adding that he was ready to take "political responsibility for the step."

He did not say directly whether that includes an amnesty for some of the alleged violations in return for support on the name agreement with Greece, but local media have been speculating about a possible political trade-off.

Parliament began debating constitutional amendments to change the country‘s name to the Republic of Northern Macedonia in a bid to end a long-running diplomatic feud with Greece.

Just to begin the process of changing the constitution, Zaev needs a two-thirds majority, or 80 out of the 120 total votes in parliament. 

It is unclear whether his governing coalition can rake in the extra 10 votes needed from the opposition in order to launch the changes.

If parliament does agree, it would still have to seal the changes with another vote requiring a two-thirds majority.

The initial debate may last up to 10 days, but could be shortened, particularly if the opposition walks out. In that case, Zaev, who will be unable to muster the majority, is likely to call early elections.

Opponents of the name change have called for a protest in front of parliament ahead of the session, but only a few dozen people arrived under the motto "Guardians of the Name."

Zaev and his Greek counterpart Alexis Tsipras in June agreed that the former Yugoslav republic will change its name to the Republic of Northern Macedonia.

In return, Athens, which claims the name Macedonia and its historic legacy for its northern province, has vowed to stop blocking Skopje‘s membership of NATO and, in the long term, the European Union.

Greece is due to move on its part of the deal only after Skopje cements the name change with constitutional amendments.

But even then, it is questionable whether Tsipras will be able to push the deal past fierce resistance, which includes his own coalition partners.


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