Greece appoints new defense minister before confidence vote

Published 26.01.2019 15:39

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras yesterday appointed his armed forces chief of staff as the country's new defense minister after his predecessor resigned in a row that collapsed the premier's ruling coalition.

Tspiras on Sunday called for a confidence vote in parliament over the resignation of defense minister Panos Kammenos, leader of a party that left the coalition in protest over a name change deal with neighboring Macedonia. His resignation raises the possibility of snap elections and the parliament speaker said debate over the confidence motion is expected to start today with a vote as early as Wednesday night.

Armed forces chief of staff Admiral Evangelos Apostolakis yesterday said he had accepted the defense minister post. "The current situation requires compromise and unity," Apostolakis told journalists before a meeting with Tsipras, as reported by Agence France-Presse (AFP).

Tsipras' leftist Syriza party has 145 deputies in the 300-member Greek Parliament but could win the confidence vote with just 120 votes if enough lawmakers abstain. Kammenos is head of the nationalist Independent Greeks party (ANEL) which has seven MPs and is fervently opposed to a deal with Macedonia to end a dispute over the country's name.

Yesterday, Tourism Minister Elena Kountoura and one other ANEL lawmaker said they would support Tsipras. Kammenos promptly expelled them both from the party. Two more ANEL lawmakers have said they will support Tsipras. However, the crisis has cast in doubt the fate of a 2018 deal that changes the name of Macedonia. Greek parliamentary endorsement of the new name, North Macedonia, is required for the tiny Balkan nation to join the European Union and NATO.

If he wins the confidence vote, Tsipras aims to bring the Macedonia name deal to parliament and to complete planned reforms before Greece's election. Defending the name deal on Sunday, Tsipras said: "As a government we made the choice to lift the historical burden, to proceed assuming the political risk, and cost, of this process." Macedonian lawmakers voted on Friday to rename their country the Republic of North Macedonia but the agreement will only come into effect with backing from the Greek parliament. The proposal faces resistance in Greece, which has a northern province of the same name, over implied claims to Greek land.

The term "Macedonia" harks back to the ancient kingdom once ruled by Alexander. Greeks, who consider this one of the high points of their history, see the use of the name by their northern neighbor as an attempt to usurp their history. The geographical area covered by the ancient kingdom now includes Macedonia and parts of Greece and Bulgaria.

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