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The Latest: Macedonian PM says vote shows will of people

Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev, centre, accompanied by his wife Zorica, left and his son Dusko, right, casts his ballot at a polling station during a referendum in Strumica, southeastern Macedonia, Sunday, Sept. 30, 2018. Macedonians were deciding Sunday on their country's future, voting in a crucial referendum on whether to accept a landmark deal ending a decades-old dispute with neighbouring Greece by changing their country's name to North Macedonia, to qualify for NATO membership and also pave its way toward the European Union. (AP Photo/Boris Grdanoski)

SKOPJE, Macedonia (AP) — The Latest on Macedonia’s referendum on a name change for the country (all times local):

11:10 p.m.

Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev has described a referendum on changing the small European country’s name to North Macedonia and thereby pave the way to NATO membership as a clear success, despite lower than hoped for voter turnout.

Zaev said he had no intention of resigning as the “vast majority” of those who voted Sunday approved the name change, part of a deal with Greece to end a nearly three-decade-long dispute over what the country is called.

Before the referendum was held, he had said he would resign if a vast majority said no the deal.

Results from 93 percent of polling stations showed 91.4 percent approval for the deal, with 36 percent of registered voters casting ballots. Opponents to the deal had called for a boycott of the vote and celebrated in the street outside parliament when initial turnout figures were announced.

Zaev said the result was a clear indication of the will of Macedonia’s people. He called on lawmakers to support the next step need to finalize the deal, which is ratification of necessary constitutional changes.

He stressed that there was “no better deal with Greece, and there could not be a better deal.”

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10:30 p.m.

The Greek government has noted the “contradictory” results from Macedonia’s referendum — overwhelming approval, but low voter turnout — on the two countries’ deal to resolve a decades-long dispute over the Macedonia name.

In a statement late Sunday, Greece’s Foreign Ministry said the outcome of the vote will require careful moves to “preserve the positive potential of the deal.”

The ministry said: “The climate of nationalism and suspicion, daily fake news and extreme fanaticism unfortunately do not allow a sober assessment of the great benefits of the agreement.”

By contrast, Greek Defense Minister Panos Kammenos, the head of a right-wing populist party, said on Twitter that “68 percent of the people have canceled the agreement,” a reference to the most recent turnout figures.

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9:20 p.m.

Election officials in Macedonia say that with ballots from nearly half of polling stations counted, more than 90 percent of voters approved of a deal with Greece that would change the country’s name to North Macedonia in order to open the way to NATO membership.

However, turnout in the referendum held Sunday was low. Officials reported that at 6:30 p.m., half an hour before polls closed, it stood at 34 percent. The figure was based on data from 85 percent of polling stations.

Opponents of the deal had called for a boycott of the referendum and were celebrating the low turnout, saying it was a clear message that Macedonians did not want to accept the name change.

But Prime Minister Zoran Zaev said he would push ahead with the next step, which is seeking parliamentary support for constitutional changes required as part of the deal.

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8:00 p.m.

The prime minister of Macedonia has declared a referendum on changing the country’s name a “success for democracy and for a European Macedonia,” and plans to address citizens again once results and final turnout figures are in.

Prime Minister Zoran Zaev spoke after polls closed in Sunday’s vote. The referendum asked voters whether they backed a deal with Greece that would change their nation’s name to North Macedonia to pave the way for NATO membership.

Weak turnout could make it harder for Zaev to muster enough support in parliament for constitutional amendments needed to finalize the deal. If the amendments fail to receive the two-thirds majority required for passage, Zaev said he would immediately call an early election.

Those opposing the deal had urged voters to boycott the referendum. Critics included President Gjorge Ivanov, who called the agreement with Greece a “flagrant violation of sovereignty.”

State Electoral Commission head Oliver Derkoski said turnout stood at 34 percent half an hour before polls closed, based on data from 85 percent of polling stations.

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6:55 p.m.

Supporters of a voter boycott of Macedonia’s referendum on changing the country’s name to North Macedonia to pave the way for NATO membership are starting to celebrate based on low turnout figures election officials gave before polls closed.

Boycott supporters cheered and chanted “Macedonia” outside Parliament in the capital, Skopje. Turnout was below 29 percent two hours before polls were due to close.

The deal with Greece, signed in June, would end a dispute dating from the early 1990s, when Macedonia declared independence from Yugoslavia. Greece argued that its small neighbor’s name implied territorial ambitions on its own Macedonia province and blocked the country’s efforts to join NATO.

But the agreement has faced vocal opposition on both sides of the border, with detractors accusing their respective governments of conceding too much to the other side.

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5:45 p.m.

Macedonia’s state election commission says voter turnout for a referendum on changing the country’s name to North Macedonia to pave the way for NATO membership stood at 28.8 percent two hours before polls close.

State Electoral Commission head Oliver Derkoski provided the updated turnout figure as of 5 p.m. Sunday. Low turnout could make it harder for Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev to persuade lawmakers to vote on constitutional changes needed for the deal with Greece to become final.

The Macedonian Constitution requires a minimum turnout of 50 percent of eligible voters for a binding referendum. However, Zaev’s government says the referendum was called as a consultative move.

That means it could interpret the outcome as a fair reflection of public opinion regardless of how many voters participated.

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3 p.m.

A Macedonian election official says turnout in Macedonia’s name change referendum stood at 16 percent six hours before the polls close.

Macedonians are voting on whether to accept a deal with neighboring Greece under which they will change their country’s name to North Macedonia and Greece will drop its objections to the country joining NATO.

State Electoral Commission head Oliver Derkoski gave the 1 p.m. turnout figure.

The government, which called the referendum, has described it as non-binding, meaning it could take the result as an accurate reflection of public opinion regardless of the turnout.

Opponents of the name deal with Greece, which include President Gjorge Ivanov, have called for a boycott of the vote.

— This corrects the name of the election chief to Derkoski.

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10 a.m.

Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev has cast his ballot in his country’s crucial referendum on whether to accept a landmark deal ending a dispute with Greece by changing the country’s name to North Macedonia.

Speaking after voting Sunday in the southeastern town of Strumica, Zaev urged his fellow countrymen to come out in force to vote. He said he was confident of a strong turnout that would prove Macedonians are in favor of joining NATO and eventually the European Union.

Zaev said Macedonians “are deciding the fate of our country. I invite everyone to come out and make this serious decision for the future of our country, for future generations.”

Still, the agreement has faced vocal opposition on both sides of the border and critics have urged people to boycott’s Sunday’s referendum.

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7 a.m.

Macedonians are deciding on their country’s future, voting whether to accept a landmark deal ending a decades-old dispute with neighboring Greece by changing their country’s name to North Macedonia and paving the way to NATO membership.

The June deal would end a dispute dating from the early 1990s when Macedonia declared independence from Yugoslavia. Greece had argued that use of the name implied territorial ambitions on its own province of the same name, and blocked the country’s efforts to join NATO.

But the agreement has faced vocal opposition on both sides of the border and critics have urged citizens to boycott’s Sunday’s referendum.

Opponents in Macedonia include the country’s president, Gjorge Ivanov, who has called the deal a “flagrant violation of sovereignty.”

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Ivana Bzganovic in Skopje contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.



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