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Greek PM calls for TV debate on Macedonia deal

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Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras / AFP PHOTO / JOHN THYS

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras on Thursday called for a televised debate on a planned name deal with Macedonia that has met with widespread opposition in the country.

“We feel that holding a debate with the head of the opposition is an important step in informing the Greek people,” Tsipras’ office said in a statement, hours after the PM won a confidence vote in parliament.

“We want the Greek people to…judge with logic based on the truth, not slogans and nationalistic cries,” it said.

Tsipras and Macedonian counterpart Zoran Zaev in June brokered a compromise to end a 27-year name dispute between the two neighbours by renaming the country the Republic of North Macedonia.

The deal sparked protests in both countries in recent months. Over the weekend, it also sank Tsipras’ four-year coalition after his nationalist allies defected in opposition to the deal.

Another demonstration will be held in Athens on Sunday.

Macedonia’s parliament last week approved a constitutional revision to change the country’s name. The agreement now needs to be ratified by Greece’s parliament.

Athens has not given a date for the parliament vote but Tsipras recently said it would be held this month.

Tsipras’ main rival Kyriakos Mitsotakis, head of the conservative New Democracy party, is strongly opposed to the agreement, arguing that it encourages irredentism in the neighbouring country.

New Democracy has historically supported a composite name solution in the dispute, but Mitsotakis — whose sister was foreign minister in a New Democracy government that in 2008 blocked Macedonia’s attempt to join NATO — says Athens has gone too far in dropping objections to a Macedonian language and identity.

For most Greeks, Macedonia is the name of their history-rich northern province made famous by Alexander the Great’s conquests.

Critics say that by allowing Macedonia to join NATO and the European Union, Greece will no longer have any leverage to prevent a usurpation of cultural identity.

In many cities in northern Greece, posters were put up overnight earlier this week to urge local lawmakers to vote against the deal. A number of MPs also said they had received anonymous threats.

Police made several arrests over the poster incident, and are investigating the threats.


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