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Macedonia PM Supports Referendum on Name Dispute With Greece

Macedonia should hold a referendum on changing the country's name to try to resolve a long-standing dispute with Greece that has blocked its efforts to join NATO, the acting prime minister said.

Nikola Gruevski called for a referendum late Sunday at a rally for June 1 general elections saying that the issue was too important to be decided by politicians.

Athens objects to the former Yugoslav republic's name, arguing it implies a territorial claim against the northern Greek province of Macedonia.

NATO-member Greece blocked Macedonia's bid to join the alliance during its summit in Bucharest, Romania last month — citing deadlocked negotiation on the name dispute at the United Nations.

"A handful of politicians cannot decide on such an issue without asking the people in a referendum," Gruevski told a rally in the capital Skopje, attended by supporters of a center-right coalition headed by his VMRO-DPMNE party.

Gruevski is opposed to changing the country's name and is at odds with Macedonia's opposition Social Democrats and President Branko Crvenkovski, who have not ruled out doing so.

VMRO officials declined to say if a referendum would be held to approve a potential deal with Greece or be called before negotiations progressed any further.

At a meeting with Crvenkovski last month, the ruling conservatives had agreed not to use the name dispute as a campaign issue.