Macedonia's PM hopes for quick solution to name dispute with Greece

The leader of the ruling Social Democratic Union of Macedonia (SDSM) and Prime Minister Zoran Zaev goes on stage to declare victory for the local elections in Skopje, Macedonia, October 16, 2017. REUTERS/Ognen Teofilovski - RC16A2D1F900

LJUBLJANA (Reuters) - Macedonia’s prime minister said on Monday he hoped Skopje and Athens could soon reach a solution to a decades-long dispute over the former Yugoslav republic’s name.

Athens argues that the use of the name Macedonia implies territorial claim over Greece’s own northerly region with the same name and has been blocking Skopje’s efforts to join NATO and European Union over the issue.

But Prime Minister Zoran Zaev said he expected the two sides to move fast to find a solution.

“November 21, 20 there will be a first meeting with (U.N. mediator) Matthew Nimetz and I hope we will find a solution rather than postpone it,” Zaev said after meeting his Slovenian counterpart Miro Cerar.

He said he expects Macedonia to start accession talks with the EU next year. The meeting in November will be the first with the U.N. mediator since Zaev took over in June.

The Macedonia name dispute has dragged on for almost 26 years with no clear progress. Athens has previously insisted that Skopje use a compound name such as “New” or “Upper” Macedonia.

The former prime minister, nationalist Nikola Gruevski, built his almost decade-long rule on nationalism and had refused to meet Greek demands.

Macedonia, a small ex-Yugoslav republic of about 2 million people, declared independence in 1991 and avoided the violence that accompanied the breakup of Yugoslavia.

It was later rocked by an insurgency among its large ethnic Albanian minority that almost tore the country apart in 2001.

Reporting by Marja Novak; Writing by Ivana Sekularac; Editing by Richard Balmforth