Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev delivers a speech in front of the NATO flag during a ceremony at the government building in Skopje, Tuesday, Feb. 12, 2019. Macedonian authorities began removing official signs from government buildings to prepare for the country's new name: North Macedonia. (AP Photo/Dragan Perkovksi)

Macedonia is officially renamed North Macedonia

February 12, 2019 - 2:24 pm

SKOPJE, Macedonia (AP) — Macedonia on Tuesday officially renamed itself North Macedonia, honoring an agreement to end a decades-old dispute with neighboring Greece and secure its entry into NATO.

A government press release said that as of Tuesday, the country is officially called the Republic of North Macedonia.

Foreign Minister Nikola Dimitrov said the move followed a final exchange of diplomatic notes with Greece.

"May today be the beginning of a long friendship between Greece and North Macedonia," he said in a tweet. "We can't change our past, but we can and we will shape our future of friendship, partnership and cooperation."

The name change finally resolves a dispute with Greece dating back to Macedonia's declaration of independence from the former Yugoslavia in 1991.

Athens had long argued that its small, landlocked neighbor's name implied claims on the northern Greek province of Macedonia, and on ancient Greek cultural heritage.

The breakthrough in the dispute came last summer, when the prime ministers of Macedonia and Greece, Zoran Zaev and Alexis Tsipras, agreed to a compromise under which Greece also lifted its objections to Macedonia joining NATO and the European Union.

Macedonia's deputy foreign minister, Andrej Zernovski, told the local TV Telma that authorities will change, within three days, road signs at border crossings, airports and customs to conform with the country's new name. Within four months, he said, the Interior Ministry will start issuing new car license plates with the abbreviation NMK, while new passports will be issued at the end of this year.

Earlier Tuesday, Macedonia raised a NATO flag at its main government building, as members of the alliance continued to ratify the country's accession agreement.

Speaking at a ceremony in the capital of Skopje, Zaev said Macedonia had achieved a "historic goal" in being accepted into NATO.

All of NATO's 29 current members must ratify the accession. Slovenia on Tuesday became the second country to do so after Greece, which lifted its objections to Macedonia's NATO membership last week.

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