In Macedonia began a referendum on changing the country's name

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Macedonia vote brings back Cold War fears

We will remind, on the eve of universal suffrage to 90% of the residents of the RM expressed the change their country name to Northern Macedonia and its early integration into European Union structures and North Atlantic Treaty Organisation.

Macedonia spun into political crisis on Sunday (Sept 30) as a referendum on a deal that would have unlocked the door to North Atlantic Treaty Organisation and European Union membership fell well short of the required turnout, raising the prospect that the Balkan nation would be blocked from those Western clubs for years to come.

Protesters in Macedonia, who pushed for a boycott of the vote, appear to have been largely successful.

But with 90% of those who took part in favour of the change, the country's prime minister has urged parliament to "confirm the will of the majority".

The referendum was non-binding, but its failure will make it hard for him to get the two-thirds majority he would need to get it through. Greece's main concern, he said, was the implementation of the constitutional changes rather than meeting deadlines.

He said that a "yes" result would be "confirmation of our future".

"This is the first time I am seeing Macedonians and Albanians campaigning together for common goals", Besa Arifi, a law professor, told AFP.

After ballots were counted from 80 percent of polling stations, 91.2 of votes were in favour of the name change, with just 5.6 percent opposed, according to the official preliminary results of the electoral commission.

The leader of Macedonia's largest opposition party, VMRO-DPMNE, Hristijan Mickovski, said that the citizens - those who voted "no" and those who did not turn out to vote - sent a message saying "this is Macedonia" - and assessed that Macedonia has spoken against the agreement with Greece. Opponents of the change had called for a boycott of the vote.

Greece is unlikely to renegotiate the deal given that even the current name deal was massively unpopular.

"Macedonia has spoken today. This opportunity must not be wasted", he said.

After decades of stalled United Nations -mediated talks, changes in the Macedonian government in 2017 rekindled hopes that a solution could be found.

The vote aimed to end a long-running dispute with Greece, which has its own region called Macedonia.

The row began in the Balkan wars that ended in 1913, when Greece, Serbia, and Bulgaria partitioned Macedonia. After World War II, the USA administered the island but returned control to Japan in 1972. The dispute stretches back almost three decades, with both countries claiming links to Alexander the Great's ancient empire of Macedon, which spanned the territories.

The two governments struck a deal in June based on the proposed new name, but nationalist opponents argue the change would undermine the ethnic identity of Macedonia's Slavic majority population.

The nationalist side was bolstered by an online disinformation campaign, blamed by Skopje and Athens on Russia, amid Russian opposition to Western expansion in the region.

In a press statement, the Greek Foreign Ministry on Sunday said Athens "remains committed to the Prespa Agreement".

The EU's enlargement chief, Johannes Hahn, followed Zaev in trying to put a positive spin on what happened. "I now expect all political leaders to respect this decision and take it forward with utmost responsibility and unity across party lines, in the interest of the country".

He said NATO's door is still open to Macedonia "but all national procedures have to be completed".

The US State Department urged lawmakers "to rise above partisan politics", and "secure a brighter future for the country as a full participant in Western institutions".

The deal would "contribute to regional stability, security, and prosperity", it added, among concerns that if people in the Western Balkans lost hope in European Union enlargement prospects, it could open up a hornet's nest of old hostilities - just two decades after the last Balkan wars.

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