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Macedonian government adopts draft law on name change

SKOPJE (Reuters) - The Macedonian government adopted on Monday a draft law on changing the country’s name as agreed with Greece and passed it to parliament for adoption, with the outcome still uncertain.

Macedonia’s bids for EU and NATO membership had long been blocked by Greece, but in June the two countries struck a deal on changing the name of the ex-Yugoslav republic to the Republic of North Macedonia to end the 27-year dispute.

However, a referendum on the agreement failed to pass turnout thresholds, leaving it to parliament to settle the issue.

The ruling coalition, which has 72 lawmakers in the 120-seat parliament, needs to secure a two-thirds majority to pass laws on constitutional changes.

Prime Minister Zoran Zaev has said that if parliament fails to adopt the law, he would call an early election.

Greece maintained that Macedonia’s name implied territorial claims to its northern province of the same name.

Under the deal, Skopje would formally adopt the name of Republic of North Macedonia, replacing Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, to join NATO and start the EU accession process.

“Now all deputies in Parliament, no matter which party they are from, have the historical duty and obligation before the citizens to secure the road for Macedonia towards stability, security and economic prosperity,” government spokesman Mile Boshnjakovski told a press conference after the government session on Monday.

However, the main opposition party, the nationalist VMRO-DPMNE, said its deputies would not vote in favour of the constitutional changes because of the outcome of the referendum.

Only 34 percent of the electorate voted in the referendum on Sept. 30 which had one question: “Are you in favour of EU and NATO membership with acceptance of the agreement with Greece?”

The election commission said the referendum was not valid due to the low turnout. For it to be valid the turnout would have to be 50 percent of eligible voters plus one vote.

Reporting by Kole Casule; Writing by Ivana Sekularac; Editing by Toby Chopra