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Greek PM says will 'intensify' efforts to solve Macedonia name row

2 min

Athens (AFP)

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras on Friday said he would "intensify" efforts to solve a 27-year name row with neighbouring Macedonia, after a "positive" meeting with Macedonian counterpart Zoran Zaev.

"We will intensify (our) efforts," Tsipras told the Greek head of state, President Prokopis Pavlopoulos.

"There are issues burdening our foreign policy. It will not be easy, but if we do not seek to solve them we may find them posing greater problems for us in the future" Tsipras said.

Tsipras met Zaev in Davos, Switzerland this week during the annual World Economic Forum.

After the two leaders met, Zaev said his country would rename Skopje's Alexander the Great airport to show its "strong commitment" to ending the row.

Zaev, who came to power last year determined to settle the issue, also said the north-south Alexander the Great motorway ending at the Greek border will be renamed "Friendship Highway".

One of history's greatest conquerors, Alexander the Great is one of Greece's foremost military heroes. The core of his 4th century BCE empire, which stretched to Egypt and India, is in the present-day Greek province of Macedonia.

Centuries later, the Romans established a Macedonia province including parts of modern-day Albania, Macedonia and Bulgaria.

The former Yugoslav province has used the name Macedonia since the 1940s. The dispute came to a head after it kept the name upon becoming an independent state in 1991.

In the past, Athens has also pointed at controversial maps and schoolbooks in Macedonia as proof that Skopje has territorial claims on its northern region.

Greece's objections have hampered the tiny nation's bid to join the European Union and NATO.

Tsipras on Friday said territorial issues "must take priority" in the talks, and that "nobody should usurp another peoples' history."

"Our neighbours must understand that it's an EU issue, it's completely contrary to EU (rules)," Pavlopoulos said.

UN mediator Matthew Nimetz will hold talks in Athens and Skopje next week.

Tsipras will brief opposition leaders on Saturday.

On Sunday, tens of thousands of people protested in the northern Greek city of Thessaloniki against any deal allowing the tiny Balkan state to keep using the name Macedonia.

Another protest will be held in Athens on February 4.

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