Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Macedonia will not change name to end dispute with Greece, president says

Macedonia's president insisted Monday that his country would not change its official name under a U.N.-led effort to end a long-running dispute with Greece.

Branko Crvenkovski said the small Balkan country was determined to keep calling itself the Republic of Macedonia in its relations with the international community. Greece has threatened to veto Macedonia's bids to join NATO and the EU unless the name is changed.

"There is a national consensus on Macedonia's name," a statement from Crvenkovski's press office said. "(Macedonia's) leadership enjoys full support from the people, and all political parties ... to preserve (its name)."

Over the weekend, Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski said Macedonia would ignore the veto threat by NATO and EU member Greece.

"Macedonia is prepared even to sacrifice its membership of NATO if the (alternative) is to change its constitutional name," he said.

Most countries recognize Macedonia by that name, which Athens says could imply claims on the Greek northern province of Macedonia.

NATO is expected to discuss the Macedonian application next April.

Late Monday, Greek Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis said Macedonia's entry into the EU and NATO would be blocked if no compromise is reached over the name.

"Geographically, Macedonia is a broad region, more than half of which belongs to Greece. Today, more than 2.5 million Greeks consider themselves proud Macedonians," Bakoyannis said on a visit to London. "(Macedonia's) route to the EU and NATO is a one-way road: a mutually accepted solution."

She added: "This is not an emotional or psychological issue, but a question of good neighborliness."

But the hardline leader of Greece's Orthodox church in northern Greece stepped up his opposition to Macedonia, adding claims that parts of the former Yugoslav Republic should belong to Greece.

"Macedonia is Greek ... and parts of it that are missing should be returned," Metropolitan Bishop of Thessaloniki said.

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