Greek MPs open debate on Tsipras confidence vote

Athens (AFP) –


Greece's parliament on Tuesday began a two-day debate on a confidence vote called by Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras after his coalition collapsed in a row over a planned name change deal with Macedonia.

"My conscience demanded that we exploit a historic opportunity, even if it entails political cost," the PM told the chamber.

Tsipras called for the vote -- to be held on Wednesday night -- following the resignation of his ally and defence minister Panos Kammenos, head of the small nationalist ANEL party, after four years in coalition government.

Tsipras' leftist Syriza party has 145 deputies in the 300-member parliament, but could win the confidence vote with just 120 votes if enough lawmakers abstain.

The government "has another nine months and very important tasks to carry out," Tsipras said.

"I ask parliament to renew its confidence in the government that took the country...out of the crisis," he said.

A number of independent MPs, some from Kammenos' own party, have also pledged to support the government.

Kammenos had been threatening for months to resign over the Macedonia deal, which aims to end a 27-year dispute between the two neighbours.

Macedonian lawmakers last week approved a constitutional revision to rename their country the Republic of North Macedonia, but the agreement will only come into effect with the backing of the Greek parliament.

Left unsolved, the dispute would have been a "burden" to regional stability, Tsipras said.

"I am certain that what we are doing is right...(and) patriotic," Tsipras said.

"There comes a time when each of us is judged by history," he said.

His conservative opponent Kyriakos Mitsotakis, leader of the New Democracy party and ahead in opinion polls, said the name agreement was "damaging" as it "cedes" the use of Macedonian language and identity to Skopje.

"We deserve better," Mitsotakis said. "The country needs a new government, we've lost too much time."

The European Union and NATO have hailed the deal, which would lift Greek objections to Macedonia joining both organisations.

The proposal faces resistance in Greece, which has a northern province of the same name just across the border, because of what critics see as the implied claims to Greek land and cultural heritage.

For most Greeks, Macedonia is the name of their history-rich northern province made famous by Alexander the Great's conquests.

In many cities in northern Greece, posters were put up overnight to urge local lawmakers to vote against the deal.

"Will you betray our Macedonia?" the posters read, each bearing the name and picture of local MPs from the Syriza and ANEL parties.

Tsipras said conservative officials were part of a campaign to sway lawmakers into rejecting the deal.

"Do you think you will intimidate lawmakers? They will not be terrorised," he told Mitsotakis.