Greece, Macedonia to sign deal ending yearslong name dispute

Greece and Macedonia have signed an agreement that aims to settle a decades-long dispute over Macedonia's name.

"We are here to heal the wounds of time, to open a path for peace, fraternization and growth for our countries, the Balkans and Europe", he said, adding that the time had come again "to sing happy songs in the Balkans".

But in Pisoderi village, 15 kilometres away from the signing ceremony, police were clashing with Greek hardliners.

The two countries' prime ministers, Greece's Alexis Tsipras and Macedonia's Zoran Zaev, will attend the signing of the deal Sunday by the two countries' foreign ministers, along with United Nations and European Union officials.

Tsipras and Zaev embraced on the village dock and were treated to a standing ovation by gathered dignitaries. In Psarades, the tiny lakeside community where the deal was signed, the village church bell tolled in mourning, draped in a Greek flag.

"Our two countries should step out of the past and look to the future", said Macedonia Prime Minister Zoran Zaev. Zaev has said he will put the deal to a referendum in the fall.

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The deal was met with fury by critics in both countries, who accuse their respective prime ministers of conceding too much. In Greece, the deal only faces ratification in parliament once Macedonia has completed its part of the process.

The deal also sparked confrontation between Tsipras and his main coalition partner, the Independent Greeks, who said they won't support any name which includes 'Macedonia'.

The UN "name" mediator, Matthew Nimetz, as well as other ministers from both countries attended the ceremony, as did the European Union enlargement commissioner, Johannes Hahn, the European Union foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, as well as the UN's Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, Rosemary DiCarlo.

United Nations under-secretary-general for political affairs Rosemary DiCarlo, longterm United Nations negotiator Matthew Nimetz, EU diplomatic chief Federica Mogherini and EU enlargement commissioner Johannes Hahn were on hand, snapping pictures with their smartphones.

If Ivanov continues to refuse, the deal will return to parliament for a second vote.

The Macedonian parliament is scheduled to start debating the agreement next week.

In Greece, the deal faces ratification in parliament only after Macedonia has completed its part of the process.

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It still needs to be approved by both parliaments and in Macedonia by a referendum.

But it has met with strong opposition internally in both countries, which could pose obstacles and delays for its ratification in their national parliaments.

Officials in Athens insist that the deal will help stabilise the historically volatile Balkan region, permitting Greece to focus on other regional challenges, Turkey among them.

Heated rows over Macedonia's name have been going on since the break-up of the former Yugoslavia, of which it was a part, and have held up Macedonia's entry to North Atlantic Treaty Organisation and the EU. "It knows that this will see Macedonia join North Atlantic Treaty Organisation", said James Ker-Lindsay, professor of politics and policy at St. Mary's University in London.

Critics of the deal in Greece say the name change could imply territorial claims on the Greek province and usurp ancient Greek culture and civilization.

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