October 1, 2018 / 11:56 AM / in 23 days

Greece says opportunity to resolve Macedonia name issue must not be wasted

ATHENS (Reuters) - The Greek government said on Monday the opportunity to solve a dispute over the name of Macedonia must not be wasted, a day after a referendum showed backing for a deal on the issue but failed to achieve the required turnout.

Protesters shout out slogans about boycotting the referendum on changing the country's name that would open the way for it to join NATO and the European Union in Skopje, Macedonia September 30, 2018. REUTERS/Marko Djurica

A vast majority of voters supported the deal reached between Athens and Skopje in June under which the country’s name would be changed to the Republic of North Macedonia.

Macedonia’s Prime Minister Zoran Zaev failed to secure the 50 percent turnout required to make the vote valid and has pledged to press on with a vote in parliament.

Greek government spokesman Dimitris Tzanakopoulos said Athens supported Zaev’s decision - although it could lead to an early election, pushing back the ratification of the deal in both countries.

Greece would monitor developments in its neighboring country, but is concerned that the low referendum turnout has made its ‘yes’ outcome not politically binding for the Macedonian opposition, Tzanakopoulos added.

“We hope that Mr. Zaev’s initiative for a constitutional reform will be successful,” he said.

Greece is flexible regarding the time frame described in the June agreement, he said, adding that the government’s main priority is the delivery of constitutional changes agreed under the deal rather than meeting time deadlines.

“The Greek government will continue with sobriety and prudence ... to support the need for an implementation of the deal,” Tzanakopoulos told a press briefing.

“This opportunity must not be wasted,” he said, calling the accord a step to boost stability in the Balkans.

Reporting by Renee Maltezou and George Georgiopoulos; Editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg

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