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Greece-FYR Macedonia dispute: MPs back historic name change to Republic of North Macedonia

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Prime Minister Zoran Zaev greets MPs after the vote.
Prime Minister Zoran Zaev greets MPs after the vote.
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MPs have today backed a historic move to change FYR Macedonia's name.

They voted to alter it to the Republic of North Macedonia as part of attempts to end a long-running dispute with neighbours Greece.

Prime Minister Zoran Zaev said the move would "open the doors to the future, Macedonia's European future".

He secured the required two-thirds parliamentary majority to push the constitutional change through.

READ: Greece and FYR Macedonia name dispute: the controversial feud explained

"Citizens of the Republic of Macedonia, through their representatives in the Parliament, tonight, by accepting the constitutional changes, wrote a new, historical chapter of our statehood," the government said in a statement.

"It is an act that gives state responsibility and strong patriotism because it makes the two major state interests absolutely feasible - NATO and EU membership. The MPs, having in mind the peak interest of the citizens, voted for an agreement that enables international integration and recognition of our country as a sovereign state, with full confirmation of the identity of the Macedonians and all citizens of the country.

"Today we have opened a new, bright future for all citizens of our country, for the sake of our children. For a peaceful, safe country where Macedonians, Albanians, Turks, Vlachs, Serbs, Roma, Bosniaks and all other ethnic communities will live a better and prosperous life."

Last year Skopje and Athens agreed on a deal for the name change and this is the first step in ratifying it.

The Greek parliament will now have to do the same.

FYR Macedonia is controversial for Greeks because it uses the same name as a neighbouring region in northern Greece. Some Greeks claim the country's territory of Macedonia, which lies just across the border from FYR Macedonia, has used the name since the times of Alexander the Great.

The name dispute has seen Athens veto multiple attempts to join NATO and the European Union.

But there is still opposition to the change.

Several hundred people have been protesting outside FYR Macedonia's parliament in recent days.

A referendum was held last September — and while 94% backed the deal with Greece — it was ruled invalid because not enough of the electorate turned out.

The opposition VMRO-DPMNE party responded to Friday's vote by asking for an early election.

"The vote on constitutional amendments that changed the name, identity, history and culture was done against the constitution. It was illegal, violent and done in a criminal way," Hristijan Mickoski told journalists after the vote.