Greek PM defends Macedonia deal ahead of confidence vote


ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Greece’s prime minister on Tuesday defended his deal to normalize relations with neighboring Macedonia ahead of a confidence vote in parliament after his governing coalition collapsed over the agreement.

Alexis Tsipras said he chose to end the 27-year dispute over Macedonia’s name, seizing “a great opportunity” despite the potential political cost to his government.

The agreement — heavily backed by Greece’s western allies who want to limit Russian influence in the Balkans — will see Macedonia renamed North Macedonia. In return, Greece will lift its objections to its northern neighbor joining NATO and, eventually, the European Union.

“I am certain we are doing the right thing,” Tsipras told parliament at the start of a two-day debate leading up to a vote late Wednesday.

He is expected to narrowly win the vote even though his left-wing Syriza party is six votes short of the 151 votes it needs in the 300-seat parliament after its right-wing junior partner, the Independent Greeks, left the coalition in protest at the deal.

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Though all opposition parties will vote against the government, four lawmakers elected with the Independent Greeks have said they will vote against the party line. Tsipras is also counting on the support of a right-wing and a centrist lawmaker.

Tsipras also played up his government’s record in seeing out Greece’s troubled bailout era that saw the economy tank, unemployment soar and incomes shrink.

“I ask you to renew your confidence in this government that took the country out of the bailouts and the crisis, and can open up new favorable prospects for the Greek people,” he said.

If Tsipras wins the vote, he proposes within days to seek parliamentary ratification of the agreement with Macedonia. He is also expected to win that vote, with the support of some opposition lawmakers.

Kyriakos Mitsotakis, leader of the main Conservative opposition party, accused Tsipras of lacking a popular mandate to govern, and repeated calls for elections before the government’s mandate expires in September.

“The economy is in a critical condition, which will be burdened much more by a protracted period of campaigning ahead of elections,” Mitsotakis told parliament.

Macedonia has already fulfilled its part of the deal, formally ratifying the agreement and changing its constitution to incorporate the new name.

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