Macedonian lawmakers ratify Greece name deal again

Macedonia's parliament on Thursday ratified a historic deal with neighboring Greece for the second time in two weeks, after the Macedonian president temporarily blocked the agreement.

A total 69 lawmakers in the 120-strong parliament approved the deal, under which the country would be renamed "North Macedonia."

All lawmakers from the conservative main opposition party, VMRO-DPMNE, abstained from the vote in protest at the agreement, which they say cedes too much to Greece.

The deal agreed upon earlier this month aims to resolve a decades-old dispute dating back to after Macedonia declared independence from Yugoslavia in 1991.

Greece argued the name "Macedonia" implied territorial aspirations on its own northern province of the same name, birthplace of the ancient warrior king Alexander the Great, and on ancient Greek heritage. Macedonia denied that.

Macedonia's parliament initially ratified the deal on June 20. But conservative President Gjorge Ivanov refused to sign off on it, saying it is unconstitutional.

Under Macedonia's constitution, Ivanov can no longer block it after the second ratification vote. However, the president might delay signing off on the deal, triggering a constitutional crisis and a showdown with left-wing Prime Minister Zoran Zaev, who has staked his political future on the deal.

Foreign Minister Nikola Dimitrov strongly criticized Ivanov's stance during Thursday's debate, accusing him of trying to terrorize the country's population.

"The most important thing is that the deal does not jeopardize our independence," he said. "On the contrary, (the deal) strengths our independence by opening the doors to NATO and the European Union."

Full implementation of the agreement will take months, and is subject to a referendum in Macedonia and a parliamentary vote in Greece. If everything goes as planned, the deal will clear the way for Macedonia to start accession talks with NATO and the EU, with Greece — a member of both organizations — lifting its long-standing objections to such a move.

Kostadin Kostadinov, a lawmaker from the governing Social Democrats, said Thursday that Ivanov has no option but to sign off on the agreement.

"No one is above the constitution and the laws," he said. "No one has the right to deprive Macedonia of its future."

On the other hand, VMRO secretary general Igor Janushev said his party "expects the president not to sign off."

Opponents of the agreement on both sides of the border have staged protests.