Roundup: Greece approves FYROM's NATO accession protocol, welcomes neighbor under new name

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ATHENS, Feb. 8 (Xinhua) -- Greek parliament approved on Friday the protocol on the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia's (FYROM) accession to North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) under its new name "Republic of North Macedonia."

A total of 153 lawmakers voted in favor and 140 against, with one abstention during the roll-call vote broadcast live on the parliament's television "Vouli" (Parliament). Of the 300 members of the assembly, 294 deputies participated in the voting procedure.

The ratification by the Greek MPs of the protocol signed by permanent representatives of NATO member states earlier this week at the alliance's headquarters in Brussels, opens the way for Greece's northern neighbour to start using its new name.

Friday's vote was one of the final key steps after the approval by the two parliaments this January of the historic agreement between Athens and Skopje to resolve a 28-year dispute over the use of the name Macedonia.

"Once again I would like to welcome from this floor North Macedonia, a friendly country for Greece who should be an ally and not against our efforts to boost security, stability and cooperation in the wider region," Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said addressing the plenary shortly before the vote.

Tsipras said the approval of the protocol by Greek MPs closes the circle of Greece's obligations under the agreement and the ball is now in Skopje's court.

The neighboring state must now formally request all countries to start using the name "Republic of North Macedonia" from now on, he noted.

Since 1991, when FYROM declared independence from Yugoslavia choosing the name Macedonia, Athens has been protesting, fearing that the new state implied claims on Greek territory, as a province in northern Greece has the same name.

The historic Prespes agreement signed last summer aimed to put an end to the longstanding row and pave the way for the small Balkan country's accession to NATO and the European Union.

Delivering a speech before the vote on Friday, main opposition New Democracy party leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis reiterated the position of critics of the deal that it is harmful for Greece's national interests.

"We remain committed to our declared position. Today we vote against the accession protocol, because it seals a national defeat at Prespes," he said.

His party supported the idea of FYROM joining NATO and EU, but under a different name, he added.

Opponents of the historic agreement in Greece believe that the danger of irredentism is not over, as the agreement recognizes Macedonian language and identity for the citizens of the neighboring state, as Mitsotakis noted.

Seven out of ten Greeks oppose the deal, according to all recent opinion surveys.

As FYROM's accession to NATO is regarded as a done deal, the conservative leader repeated a warning he had made a few days ago at the assembly.

Should he be elected prime minister in the general elections to be held in Greece later this year, he will exercise the right of veto during the neighboring country's accession process to the EU. Enditem

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