The foreign ministers of Macedonia and Greece have signed a historic agreement on a modified name for the former Yugoslav republic, after the Greek prime minister survived a parliamentary vote of no-confidence brought by opponents of the deal and in the face of protests in both countries..
The agreement was signed on June 17 by the nations' foreign ministers at Lake Prespa along the border separating the Balkan neighbors.
Under the deal, aimed at ending a 27-year dispute between Skopje and Athens, Macedonia would be named the Republic of North Macedonia.
The accord still needs to be approved by Macedonia's parliament and confirmed in a Macedonian referendum in September, after which Greek lawmakers must ratify it.
Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev and his Greek counterpart, Alexis Tsipras, attended the signing ceremony in the Greek fishing village of Psarades, along with UN and European officials.
Zaev called on the two neighboring countries to "step out of the past and look to the future."
"Our peoples want peace...We will be partners and allies," he also said.
Tsipras described the signing of the agreement as a "brave, historic, and necessary step for our peoples."
"We are here to heal the wounds of time, to open a path for peace, fraternization, and growth for our countries, the Balkans, and Europe," the Greek prime minister added.
The deal was also signed UN mediator Matthew Nimetz.
The AFP news agency reported that Greek riot police blocked a few hundred protesters several kilometers away from the ceremony, which was attended by the UN undersecretary-general for political affairs, Rosemary DiCarlo, EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, and EU Enlargement Commissioner Johannes Hahn.
After the signature, the delegations headed to the Macedonian side of the lake, to the village of Oteshevo, for a celebratory lunch.
The accord has met with strong opposition internally in both countries, which could pose obstacles and delays for its ratification in their national parliaments.
On June 16, Tsipras survived a parliamentary vote of no-confidence brought by the opposition New Democracy party, which had accused him of granting too many concessions in the deal with Macedonia.
"Out of 280 lawmakers present, 153 voted against the motion," speaker Yiorgis Varemenos said.
Thousands of Greeks protested against the deal outside parliament on the day of the no-confidence motion, calling for the prime minister's resignation. Police fired tear gas at protesters to keep them from entering the building.
Macedonia's President Gjorge Ivanov has pledged to veto the deal if it is ratified by Skopje's parliament.
Macedonian government officials have said that with the deal in hand, they hope to secure a date to begin EU accession talks at an EU summit in late June and an invitation to join NATO by mid-July.
The name dispute between Skopje and Athens dates back to 1991, when Macedonia peacefully broke away from Yugoslavia, declaring its independence under the name Republic of Macedonia.
Greece had objected to the name Macedonia, fearing territorial claims on its eponymous northern region.
Because of Greek objections, Macedonia was admitted to the UN under a provisional name, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.
Greece, an EU and NATO member, has also cited the dispute to veto Macedonia's bid to join the two organizations.