Macedonia's constitutional court rejected two bids to declare illegal and unconstitutional the upcoming referendum on renaming the country "North Macedonia." The vote on Sept. 30 has been hailed by western officials as a major chance for the small Balkan country to launch the process of joining NATO and the European Union.
Judges voted 7-2 yesterday to reject the two bids, filed by the World Macedonian Congress, a Skopje-based diaspora group, and the small, left-wing Levitsa party.
Renaming Macedonia is a key element of a deal with neighboring Greece to end a decades-old dispute. However, Athens claims the name of Macedonia for its northern province, and has been accusing its neighbor of territorial aspirations towards the province and its legacy; for this reason, Greece has blocked Macedonia from joining NATO and promised to do the same in the European Union. Following the agreement in June, Greece lifted its NATO veto in July, but will ratify a membership treaty only if the name change is backed in the referendum and sealed with constitutional changes. NATO has invited Macedonia to begin accession talks with the alliance, but says it must first change its constitution and adopt the new name. The EU has also said it would set a date for Macedonian accession talks pending implementation of the deal.
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