SKOPJE, Macedonia (AP) — Macedonia's parliament on Tuesday started debating a law ratifying an agreement with neighboring Greece designed to end a decades-long dispute over Macedonia's name.
Lawmakers voted 69-40 to proceed with a bill to ratify the Greek-Macedonia deal to rename the latter country North Macedonia. The ratification was later approved by two parliamentary committees.
Parliament speaker Talat Xhaferi told The Associated Press that the debate in the plenary session would start Wednesday, but as the main opposition VMRO-DPMNE party is boycotting the session, the vote could even be held within the day.
Greece had long insisted on the name change, arguing that its northern neighbor's name implies claims on a northern Greek province also called Macedonia, and on ancient Greek heritage.
The former Yugoslav republic must change its constitution to formalize the deal.
Opposition parties and large sections of the population in both Greece and Macedonia are against the agreement, arguing it offers too many concessions to the other country.
Several hundred people protested peacefully against the deal during Tuesday's parliamentary debate in Skopje, shouting "traitors" and burning a copy of the agreement.
While the left-led government, which controls 65 of parliament's 120 seats, should have little difficulty getting the bill approved, the country's conservative president, Gjorge Ivanov, has said he will not sign off on the law. That would force a repeat of the ratification debate and vote, and if it is again approved then Ivanov would be unable to block it.
Last week's agreement between the two countries' prime ministers was signed Sunday. Macedonia has to hold a referendum on the constitutional amendment, and Greece's parliament has to ratify the deal as well.
Foreign Minister Nikola Dimitrov said Tuesday that the deal must be ratified by the end of this month, to meet deadlines for the launching of Macedonia's NATO and EU membership process.