ATHENS (Reuters) – Greek lawmakers have pushed back the ratification of a U.N brokered deal on a name-change for neighbouring Macedonia as speakers engaged in a heated parliamentary debate.
The Prespes Agreement between Athens and Skopje changes the tiny Balkan nation’s name to Republic of North Macedonia, ending a 28-year old dispute between the two countries over the name.
“There is an unprecedented high number of MPs who want to speak,” Greek parliamentary speaker Nikos Voutsis told journalists on Thursday as the vote was postponed until Friday, when it is scheduled to take place at 1230 GMT.
Greece’s parliament had been expected to ratify the name-change late on Thursday, despite angry protests and opposition from political parties calling the deal “nationally damaging”.
Voutsis said close to 230 MPs in the 300-seat parliament had wanted to speak. Most are given six minutes, a rule routinely broken in the highly-charged session which opened on Wednesday.
The accord has already been ratified by Macedonia’s parliament and Greek parliamentary endorsement is necessary for the country to eventually join the European Union and NATO.
Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras appears to have secured the support of at least 151 deputies in the 300-seat house to get the deal approved.
Opinion polls have shown most Greeks oppose the term “Macedonia” being used in any agreement, fearing territorial claims over Greece’s largest northern province of Macedonia.
Tens of thousands rallied against the deal in Athens on Sunday and members of the Greek Communist Party (KKE) unfurled banners on the walls of the ancient Acropolis, Greece’s most iconic landmark, to protest against the deal on Thursday.
(Reporting by Renee Maltezou; Editing by Alexander Smith)