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The Greek legislature ratifies Macedonia's name change agreement

ATHENS, Greece – Greek lawmakers signed an agreement on Friday to end an almost three-decade long dispute over the name of neighboring Macedonia. The country will be renamed Macedonia to the north and will clear its way to NATO membership.

The deal was passed with 153 votes in the 300-member parliament, two more than necessary. There was fierce opposition in both countries, and recently Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras lost his parliamentary majority after a small right-wing party resigned in protest from the governing coalition. It was adopted with the support of independent lawmakers.

The leftist Syriza party of Tsipras holds 145 seats in parliament, six just under a majority.

"Today is a historic day," said Tsipras. "Greece retains an important part of its history, the legacy of ancient Greek Macedonia. Today we write a new page for the Balkans.

Under the agreement, Macedonia changes its name to Northern Macedonia and Greece objects to NATO's accession to NATO and finally to the European Union.

"Congratulations, my friend Alexi Tsipras, along with our peoples, we have achieved a historic victory. "Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev tweeted.

Ratification was quickly welcomed by both 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 accession of the future Republic of North Macedonia to NATO."

The ratification took place after three days of bitter parliamentary debate and numerous street protests, some of which became violent. At a rally last Sunday, tens of thousands of people gathered in front of the Parliament and clashes broke out between groups of demonstrators and riot police.

Heavy rain and driving wind kept many demonstrators away on the last day of the debate. Numerous demonstrators defying weather conditions outside of parliament called out "traitors" when the legislature was inside.

EU leaders said ratification had written "a new page in our common EU future".

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, the EU's top diplomat and high-ranking official overseeing the bloc's expansion, said that "on all sides, political courage, leadership and responsibility for settling the bloc are the deepest rooted disputes in the region. "

Greece has long argued that the term Macedonia implied territorial claims in its own northern province of the same name. The topic was disputed for decades, repeated rounds of negotiations by the UN and the abolition of nationalist and patriotic feelings in both countries.

In the northern Greek region of Macedonia, which borders on the Republic, the opposition is particularly violent After the declaration of independence of former Yugoslavia in 1991, he called for the same name. Critics argued that the deal expressed its identity and a cultural legacy that dated back to Alexander the Great more than 2,300 years ago.

More than 150 people have been detained for questioning since Thursday after violent demonstrations against the deal in Athens and in two cities in northern Greece. Most were released without charge.

At least two lawmakers from the Syriza Party government have stated that their homes have been attacked by violent demonstrators, while another has targeted a non-violent firebomb. The Minister of Tourism of Greece, an independent conservative who supports the government, said she received several death threats.

Derek Gatopoulos in Athens and Lorne Cook in Brussels contributed to this report.

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