January 24, 2018 / 7:42 PM / 25 days ago

Macedonia to rename airport to help resolve name row with Greece, PM says

DAVOS, Switzerland (Reuters) - Macedonia will change the name of its airport to help resolve a decades-long dispute with Greece over the ex-Yugoslav republic’s name, its prime minister said on Wednesday.

Macedonia took that name when it declared independence from Yugoslavia in 1991, but Greece has disputed it since, saying it implies territorial claims to a Greek province of the same name as well as to Greece’s history.

The name of the airport - Skopje Alexander the Great Airport - has particularly riled Greeks because Macedonia is also the name of the ancient Greek kingdom ruled by Alexander. Prime Minister Zoran Zaev did not say what its new name would be.

Greece insists the country be referred to internationally as the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia until the row is resolved. That is the name under which it was admitted to the United Nations in 1993.

“To demonstrate, in practice, that we are committed to finding a solution, I am announcing that we will change the name of the airport and avenues,” Zaev told reporters at the World Economic Forum in Davos, in comments translated into Greek.

Zaev said the final solution “should be accepted by both sides, and promote the interests of both.”

The two sides had agreed to intensify consultations which are already underway, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said.

“We don’t want to just solve the issue of the name, but to put the relations of our two countries on solid foundations,” he said.

The dispute has held up the country’s prospects of joining the European Union and NATO.

Greeks are highly sensitive about the issue. Hundreds of thousands of people demonstrated in northern Greece on Sunday against any solution that would include the term “Macedonia.”

“The majority of citizens in both countries want close relations and mutual cooperation. We want to be partners in the EU, and in NATO,” Zaev said.

Writing by Karolina Tagaris in Athens, editing by Larry King

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