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Macedonia: Lawmakers who backed new name get more security

Lawmakers of the opposition VMRO-DPMNE stand on the right and react during the voting on proposal on a motion for constitutional revision during a session of the Macedonian Parliament in the capital Skopje, Friday, Oct. 19, 2018. Lawmakers in Macedonia on Friday backed the landmark proposal to amend the constitution, allowing the country to change its name and join NATO. (AP Photo/Boris Grdanoski)

SKOPJE, Macedonia (AP) — Macedonia’s interior minister said Monday that additional police protection is being provided to lawmakers who voted to support a deal that would change the country’s name.

Interior Minister Oliver Spasovski said all 80 parliament members who backed launching the constitutional amendment process needed for the change were getting extra security after several lawmakers and their families reported death threats.

Parliament voted 80-39 late Friday in favor of the government’s proposal for the amendment that would rename the small Balkan country as North Macedonia.

The government received cross-party support despite fierce objection from the opposition conservatives, who claimed that at least three lawmakers had been offered bribes.

The name change would end a long dispute with neighboring Greece, which in return would stop blocking Macedonia from joining NATO and the European Union.

Western officials have strongly supported the deal, which could reduce Russian influence in the Balkans.

On Monday, the United States’ deputy assistant secretary of state visited Skopje and praised the parliament decision.

Matthew Palmer said the agreement “is essential for Macedonia’s path towards the European Union and NATO.”

“I would like to underscore that the Macedonian people can rely on U.S. friendship and support,” Palmer added.

The amendment process is expected to take months. After it is completed, the last step in enacting the name change deal will be taken in Athens, where Greece’s parliament is to vote on whether to ratify the agreement.

Greece has long objected to Macedonia’s current name, arguing that it implies claims on its own adjoining province of Macedonia and on ancient Greek heritage.

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