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Macedonia Sets Referendum Date on Renaming Country

FILE - Protesters take part in a rally opposing Greece's name deal with neighboring Macedonia in Athens, Greece, July 1, 2018.

Macedonia's parliament has set September 30 as the date for a referendum on changing the country's name to North Macedonia.

Macedonian lawmakers approved the measure with 68 votes in the 120-seat parliament. Opposition members boycotted the vote by leaving the room.

Greece has objected to its neighbor being called Macedonia, saying it implies territorial claims over its own province of the same name. It has blocked the former Yugoslav republic's bid to join the European Union and NATO because of the naming disagreement.

Macedonia Prime Minister Zoran Zaev, who was elected in 2017, has pushed for an agreement with Greece to solve the dispute. In June, the two sides agreed on the name North Macedonia.

The referendum question that parliament approved Monday does not explicitly mention changing the country's name. It says only: "Are you for EU and NATO membership by accepting the agreement between the Republic of Macedonia and the Republic of Greece?"

Macedonia's nationalist opposition party, VMRO-DPMNE, criticized the wording of the referendum question. "It is manipulative," said Igor Janusev, VMRO-DPMNE secretary general.