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Macedonian president attempts to block name deal

Gjorge Ivanov, president of the Republic of Macedonia, at the United Nations in 2009.

DANIEL ACKER/BLOOMBERG

By SLAV OKOV AND ELIZABETH KONSTANTINOVA | Bloomberg | Published: June 26, 2018

The president of the Republic of Macedonia rejected an agreement with Greece on the nation's new name, a move that may be only a temporary hurdle in the ex-Yugoslav nation's NATO and European Union accession plans.

The veto by opposition-backed President Gjorge Ivanov, who said on Tuesday he wouldn't sign the accord, may be overturned in parliament as early as next week. The legislature's approval to call the country the Republic of North Macedonia is crucial for Prime Minister Zoran Zaev to proceed with a plan to hold a referendum this fall.

The agreement violates the constitution and "puts the Republic of Macedonia in subordination of and dependence on another state," Ivanov said in an emailed statement.

Zaev needs wide public support to pass a constitutional amendment in exchange for Greece to stop blocking the country's aspirations of joining the EU and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Greece believes the name 'Macedonia' is a territorial claim over its northern province with the same label. The premier expects to receive invitations to start entry talks with the two blocs within weeks.

"The president's decision was anticipated, but it won't affect the stages of the agreement's approval, because the citizens will have the final decision," government spokesman Mile Boshniakovski said by phone from Skopje. "The Cabinet in Athens already sent letters to the EU and NATO to support us for this week's EU meeting and the NATO summit on July 12. We're expecting to get a signal this week to start accession talks with the EU."

Zaev sent letters to his EU counterparts, urging them to support the country's entry to the 28-nation bloc, his government said in an email. A decision to start accession talks would help "create a positive climate to complete the tasks envisaged" in the name deal with Greece and push ahead with reforms, it said.

Zaev expects the majority of citizens to approve the deal, he told 1TV in the capital, Skopje. He also threatened to resign if the referendum fails, according to the interview broadcast Monday.

He has warned he'll find ways to impeach Ivanov over his rejection of the deal that seeks to resolve the 27-year dispute with Greece. To do that, Zaev would have to convince some lawmakers allied with the president to oust him, as he controls 68 of 120 legislators.

Either way, the veto is unlikely to present a serious hurdle in the process, as long as the referendum is successful, according to Besa Arifi, an associate professor in law at the South East European University in Tetovo, Republic of Macedonia.

"Even if Ivanov imposes a second veto, it doesn't matter," Arifi said by phone. "The government found a way to bypass him in this process."

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