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Scepticism in Greece and Macedonia over proposed name deal

AFP  |  Athens 

Greeks and Macedonians expressed scepticism today over a proposed compromise deal to end a nearly three-decade name row between their countries which has blocked Skopje's bid to join the EU and

The leaders of the neighbouring countries hailed a "historic" agreement on Tuesday to rename the tiny Balkan nation the Republic of North after months of intensive talks.

However Greece's conservative opposition quickly branded the deal a "national retreat", while Macedonia's stormed out of a meeting with the and foreign minister in protest.

"Ivanov interrupted the meeting and left refusing to talk about the benefits of this historic agreement on the Macedonian future," said.

The meeting lasted less than three minutes, officials said. Macedonia's nationalist condemned the deal as "an absolute defeat of the Macedonian diplomacy in every possible way."

There was also reluctance on the streets of

"We went too far, we allowed too much," said Suzana Turundzieva, a 46-year-old retail worker.

however defended the deal.

"I believe that yesterday we made a very decisive step for the stability of the broader Balkan region," told state TV ERT.

has long objected to its northern neighbour being called because it has its own northern province of the same name, which in ancient times was the cradle of Alexander the Great's empire -- a source of intense pride to modern day Greeks.

The breakthrough was quickly welcomed by the United Nations, and the EU, with tweeting: "Thanks to you the impossible is becoming possible."

However both governments face significant hurdles at home over the deal, with the countries' main opposition parties refusing to support it.

Street protests have also been held in both nations against any compromise, and additional demonstrations are expected in in the coming days.

Even Greeks who admit the row had gone on too long say the compromise was painful and could still leave their country empty-handed.

"I agree with a heavy heart... because they had left the issue for 26 years and I guess that nothing better could have been done at this point," said "All this is a trick for the to become a protectorate of NATO," chafed Vassilis, a 20-year-old

Much of the criticism in has focused on the government's acceptance that the neighbouring country's language and ethnicity will be called "Macedonian".

"The acceptance of the Macedonian language and nationality is an unacceptable national retreat," said main

Others argue that with proving an increasingly volatile neighbour, it made sense to close the long-running diplomatic dispute.

Macedonian welcomed the deal yesterday, saying "we have a after two and a half decades. Our agreement includes Republic of North for overall use".

Greek declared it "a great diplomatic victory and a great historic opportunity" for the region to have "friendship, cooperation and co-development".

The agreement still needs to be approved by and pass a referendum there, as well as be ratified by the

Critics say Tsipras, who has a slim majority in parliament, lacks legitimacy to enforce the deal because his nationalist coalition partner has refused to support it.

But he is expected to be able to get the deal approved thanks to the backing of a number of smaller Greek opposition parties.

Observers have warned there was a real risk that the world would simply continue referring to the country as "Macedonia", which would constitute a major failure for Greece.

Questions were also raised about what Greece could do if a hardline government comes to power in and refuses to carry through the promised reforms -- including an overhaul of vehicle license plates, passports and administrative documents -- as the procedure is likely to take years.

"This looks like a preliminary deal, there are many phases of implementation, so we should restrain our expectations," Greek told SKAI TV.

hopes to secure a date to begin accession talks at an EU summit in late June, and an invitation to join in mid-July.

(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

First Published: Wed, June 13 2018. 20:25 IST