Germany’s Merkel in Macedonia before referendum on name deal

SKOPJE, Macedonia (AP) — German chancellor Angela Merkel is on a brief visit to Macedonia ahead of a Macedonian referendum on a deal with neighboring Greece aimed at ending a decades-old name dispute.

Merkel’s trip Saturday marked the first ever official visit by a German chancellor to the tiny Balkan country as it celebrates 27 years of independence from former Yugoslavia.

Western countries have expressed strong support for the agreement, signed in June, proposing to change Macedonia’s name to “North Macedonia,” which would allow Macedonia to join NATO. But opposition parties in both countries remain firmly opposed to the agreement.

Merkel is due to meet Macedonian Prime minister Zoran Zaev and conservative opposition leader Hrstijan Mickoski.

Greece has long argued that Macedonia’s name implies a claim on the Greek province of the same name.

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