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Macedonia: Debate on constitutional changes begins

SKOPJE, Macedonia (AP) — A Macedonian parliamentary committee on Wednesday began debating constitutional amendments required under a deal with neighboring Greece to change the country’s name to North Macedonia, in exchange for NATO membership.

The move comes after a Sept. 30 referendum on the deal with Greece, which would end a nearly 30-year dispute between the two neighbors over Macedonia’s name.

Voters overwhelmingly supported the deal, but the referendum was ruled invalid because of low turnout.

Prime Minister Zoran Zaev on Wednesday urged opposition lawmakers, who have said they will block the constitutional amendments, to support the changes, including modifying the constitution’s preamble and two articles. He said that otherwise Macedonia would be unable to join NATO.

“All lawmakers now have an historic duty to pave the way for the country’s stability, security and economic prosperity,” Zaev said.

Athens has long blocked Macedonia’s NATO accession due to the name dispute, arguing that the country’s current name implies claims on Greek territory and heritage.

Zaev’s left-led governing coalition lacks the two-thirds majority it needs to get the proposals approved, and Zaev has said he will call early elections if the amendments are rejected.

But the main conservative opposition VMRO-DPMNE party insisted that the deal with Greece is “dead” after the referendum.

“The people have rejected the deal,” VMRO-DPMNE lawmaker Trajko Veljanoski said. “I will not vote for constitutional changes.”

The debate will last several days at committee level before being put to lawmakers in a plenary session, likely next week.

Macedonia’s parliament has ratified the name-change agreement, which will only be finalized if the country amends its constitution and if Greece’s parliament also ratifies the agreement.

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