Protesters demonstrate against the agreement between Greece and Macedonia over dispute of the former Yugoslav's republic name, outside the Greek Parliament, in Athens, Friday, June 15, 2017. The prime ministers of Greece and its northern neighbor, Macedonia, agreed Tuesday that the former Yugoslav republic should be renamed North Macedonia.(AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)

Greek lawmakers debate no-confidence vote amid name dispute

June 15, 2018 - 6:27 am

ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Greek lawmakers debated for a second day Friday a no-confidence motion against the government over its tentative agreement to end a decades-old dispute with neighboring Macedonia over its name.

Outside parliament in central Athens, a few hundred people protested the deal, waving Greek flags and shouting slogans accusing the government of treasonous behavior.

But the turnout two hours after the protest started was a far cry from a previous rally that drew more than 100,000 people to the same spot earlier this year.

In a deal announced by the two countries' prime ministers Tuesday, Macedonia will change its name to North Macedonia. That move has angered hardliners and nationalists on both sides of the border who feel their countries have made too much of a concession to the other.

In Macedonia, where implementation of the deal has to clear the hurdles of parliamentary ratification, a referendum in September and a constitutional amendment, opponents of the name-change include the conservative opposition party, VMRO-DPMNE, and the country's president Gjorge Ivanov, who has said he will not sign off on the agreement.

In Greece, the deal only faces ratification in parliament once Macedonia has performed all of its part of the process. However, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras' left-led government faces a complex challenge as its junior coalition partner, the small nationalist Independent Greeks, vehemently opposes the deal.

The Greek conservative opposition party, New Democracy, took the opportunity to call a no-confidence vote over the name deal, hoping to topple Tsipras' government, which controls 154 of parliament's 300 seats. That, however, appears unlikely.

The Greek lawmakers' debate started Thursday and will conclude with a vote Saturday.

On Friday, Greek parliamentary officials expelled lawmakers from the Nazi-inspired Golden Dawn party from the debate, after one of them shouted that Greece's military should step in and arrest Tsipras and other top officials because of their backing for Macedonia's name change.

The dispute between the two Balkan neighbors started after Macedonia gained independence from the former Yugoslavia in 1991. Greece had argued the name "Macedonia" implied territorial claims on its province of the same name, which is the birthplace of the ancient warrior king Alexander the Great, and usurped its ancient Greek heritage and history.

The dispute lurched through repeated rounds of United Nations-mediated negotiations for years. A breakthrough was reached after a change of government in Macedonia, with Prime Minister Zoran Zaev taking over last year after a decade of rule by conservative Nikola Gruevski.

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