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SKOPJE, Macedonia, August 7, 2018 (News Wires) - Macedonian police say they have arrested seven people on suspicion of terrorism for allegedly participating as fighters in the wars in Syria and Iraq.

The suspects, all Macedonian nationals aged between 23 and 41, were arrested in an overnight operation Monday to Tuesday on international warrants. They will be charged for “participation in a foreign army, police and paramilitary formations.”

Under a Macedonian antiterrorism law, it is illegal to participate in any paramilitary group or armed conflicts abroad. If convicted, they face jail sentences of up to 10 years.

According to earlier Macedonian official estimates, about 130 Macedonian nationals have joined the Islamic State group and participated in wars in Syria. At least a dozen have been killed in fighting.

 

ATHENS, Greece, July 3, 2018 (News Wires) — The head of the Greek government's junior coalition partner said on Tuesday he will not allow a deal the country recently made with neighbouring Macedonia over the latter's name to be ratified until it has voter approval, either through general elections or a referendum.

The statements by Defense Minister Panos Kammenos, who is the head of the right-wing Independent Greeks party, indicate he is prepared to bring down the coalition government over the deal that renames Greece's northern neighbour North Macedonia.

"The deal for me is bad. I do not accept this deal, and I will try to block it," Kammenos said.

Greece has long objected to use of the term "Macedonia," saying it implies claims on the Greek province of the same name. The deal reached last month has met with strong objections in both countries, with opponents saying it concedes too much to the other side. Several demonstrations in Greece over the issue have turned violent.

Greece's parliament is to vote on the deal only after Macedonia has completed all steps required on its part, which includes constitutional changes. Macedonia's parliament recently ratified the deal, but the country's conservative president has refused to sign off on it. His move will delay, but probably not derail, the agreement, which is supposed to pave the way for Macedonia to join NATO. The issue is expected to be discussed during the NATO summit next week.

But on the Greek side, Kammenos vowed to prevent the deal's ratification in parliament without seeking explicit consent from the Greek public.

"I want to clearly state — and I take the responsibility as president of the Independent Greeks which is a party in the government — that this agreement will not come for ratification without the opinion of the Greek people," Kammenos said, adding that this would occur "either with elections or with a referendum."

He noted the only option for that to be avoided is if Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras requires the agreement to pass with an enhanced majority of two-thirds of parliament, instead of the simple majority of 151 of the legislature's 300 seats, and the main opposition parties vote in favor — something they have indicated they will not do.

The coalition government currently holds 152 seats, down from 154 after Kammenos' party lost two deputies over the Macedonia issue. Tsipras' own left-wing Syriza party holds 145 seats, so without the Independent Greeks it will be dependent on opposition parties to ratify the deal.

Kammenos said Greece's northern neighbour "has no future in NATO if this deal is not ratified. And as far as Greece is concerned, I will see to it that this deal is not ratified — and I make a commitment for this — without the approval of the Greek people."

PRESPES, (Greece), June 17, 2018 (News Wires) - The foreign ministers of Greece and Macedonia signed an accord on Sunday to rename the former Yugoslav republic as the “Republic of North Macedonia.”

The accord, signed on lake Prespa in northern Greece bordering Macedonia and Albania, hopes to settle nearly three decades of talks between the two over the young Balkan state’s names. It still needs to be approved by both parliaments and in Macedonia by a referendum.

ATHENS, June 13, 2018 (News Wires) - Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras was accused on Wednesday of surrendering part of his nation's identity, as  deal he struck to settle a name dispute with Macedonia prompted a barrage of criticism from opposition politicians and media.

Under the agreement announced by Athens and Skopje on Tuesday, the Balkan state known as Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia" would henceforth be called the "Republic of Northern Macedonia".

The accord would open the way for the small nation's eventual membership of the European Union and NATO, currently blocked by Greece's objections to its current name.

But conservative opposition leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis called it "deeply problematic", because the majority of Greeks were against it and Tsipras lacked the political legitimacy to sign it.

"We are in a situation that is unprecedented in Greece's constitutional history. A prime minister without a clear parliamentary mandate willing to commit the country to a reality which will not be possible to change," Mitsotakis said.

The accord requires ratification by both countries' parliaments, and the junior partner in Greece's coalition, the right wing Independent Greeks party, has said it does not back any deal that gives away the name Macedonia.

That chimes in with the view of many ordinary Greeks, who feel the name implies territorial claims on a northern Greek province of the same name, the birthplace of national hero Alexander the Great.

The name dispute has soured bilateral relations since 1991, when Greece's northern neighbour declared its independence from former Yugoslavia under the name Republic of Macedonia.

In a front-page editorial conservative daily Eleftheros Typos called the agreement "the surrender of the Macedonian identity and language," while centre-right Kathimerini referred to "a deal with gaps and question marks".

Responding to the conservatives, Deputy Foreign Minister George Katrougkalos said the deal would put an end to the perpetuation of the name Macedonia as an identifier for the Balkan state.

"If they believe this (that the government does not have the legitimacy), they have the means ... to question it with a no-confidence motion. Why aren't they doing it?" Katrougkalos told Greek Skai TV.

Centre-left daily Ta Nea newspaper said that, while the historian of the future would have the luxury of time to assess the deal, "until then one must keep in mind that there are no compromises without concessions".

Activist group The Committee for The Hellenic Identity of Macedonia said it would organise protests in Athens and northern Greece if the deal went ahead and urged lawmakers not to ratify it.

"We peacefully assert that they have no right to sign (a deal) against Greek people's will," they wrote on Facebook.

Mikis Theodorakis, who composed the music to the film 'Zorba the Greek', said the agreement would "stigmatise us forever" if it went ahead.

SKOPJE, Macedonia, May 20, 2018 (News Wires) — Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev said on Saturday he is ready to go ahead with a new name for his country in order to solve a decades-long name dispute with Greece and pave the way for full integration of the small Balkan country into the European Union and NATO.

But Greek political leaders briefed by Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras rejected the Macedonian proposal outright and the Greek government itself, in a response to Zaev's remarks, was evasive about the particular name proposal.

Zaev said that "Republic of Ilindenska Macedonia" is the compromise name acceptable to both sides. The adjective "Ilindenska," meaning, literally, "the day of the prophet Elijah" refers to a 1903 uprising against Turkish occupiers.

"With this possible solution, we preserve the dignity, we confirm and strengthen our Macedonian identity," Zaev said, but added that final say on the new name will be put to a referendum.

Zaev reiterated that Macedonia has no territorial claims to its southern neighbour and confirmed the inviolability of the borders. "Macedonia is ready to confirm this in all necessary ways," Zaev said.

Macedonia was a part of the former Yugoslavia and declared independence in 1991. Greece claims the country's name implies territorial designs on its northern province of Macedonia.

He also said that with the new name proposal "we make a complete distinction with the Macedonia region in Greece".

In Athens, premier Tsipras briefed Greece's president and opposition leaders. All the opposition leaders said the name "Ilinden Macedonia" was unacceptable because, as Communist Party leader Dimitris Koutsoumbas said, it is "neither a geographical nor a temporal" designation, as agreed in nearly two decades of talks mediated by the United Nations. Some opposition leaders called the proposal a provocation on Macedonia's part.

A statement released by the Greek government reflected its ambivalence about the name.

"We welcome the acceptance by (the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia) that a solution to the nomenclature cannot exist without the adoption of ... a name for all uses," the statement said, meaning that Macedonians could not simply call their country "Macedonia" domestically, while having another name for international use.

"However, we encourage our neighbours to continue working together to find a commonly accepted name with a geographical or temporal designation, just as the package of proposals tabled by the UN Special Envoy, Matthew Nimetz, also provides," the Greek statement added.

Zaev has urged Macedonians to support the proposed name.

SKOPJE, April 27, 2018 (Reuters) - Macedonia expects to secure a date soon to start membership talks with the European Union and will step up its efforts to implement the reforms needed to join, Prime Minister Zoran Zaev said on Friday.

Macedonia won its candidacy status in 2005, but the accession talks remain blocked by Greece due to a decades-long dispute about the name of the former Yugoslav republic.

Since he took over last year, Zaev has stepped up efforts to resolve the dispute with Greece, which says the name Macedonia implies a territorial claim over its northern region which has the same name.

Greece is also blocking Macedonia’s membership of NATO.

“We have a concrete goal ahead of us. We have never been closer to receiving a date to open membership talks with the EU,” Zaev said after meeting Donald Tusk, head of the European Council which groups the bloc’s 28 national governments.

“We are working to successfully solve the name issue. Solving this issue will open the doors to begin membership talks with the EU and to enter NATO.”

He said his administration would “double” its efforts to ensure that reforms are “more visible, concrete and efficient”.

Western governments see NATO and European Union membership for the Western Balkan countries as the best way to stabilize a region still recovering from armed conflicts in the 1990s.

In its latest report on progress of the six Western Balkan countries, the European Commission gave a recommendation for Albania and Macedonia to start accession talks. All member states have to give the green light for negotiations to begin.

But until the name issue is resolved, Greece is unlikely to give a green light to Macedonia’s accession talks.

Tusk was in Skopje for a meeting of regional heads of state, including the presidents of Croatia and Slovenia, the only two former Yugoslav republics so far to have joined the EU.

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