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article imageGreek PM calls confidence vote after minister quits over Macedonia deal

By Katerina NIKOLOPOULOU (AFP)     Jan 13, 2019 in World

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tspiras on Sunday called for an "immediate" confidence vote in parliament over the resignation of a top minister, after his coalition government collapsed in a row over a name change deal with Macedonia.

The move raises the possibility of snap elections and came after Defence Minister Panos Kammenos resigned in protest over an agreement to end the 27-year Macedonia name dispute.

"We will proceed immediately to the renewal of the confidence in our government by the parliament in order to proceed with the major issues for our country," Tspiras said.

Parliament speaker Nikos Voutsis suggested a debate on the confidence motion could start on Tuesday, with a vote on Wednesday night.

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

Kammenos, who is head of the nationalist Independent Greeks party (ANEL) which has seven MPs, said he was "sacrificing" his post over the Macedonia name issue.

"I thanked the prime minister for the cooperation and I explained to him that for this national issue we cannot continue," Kammenos said, adding that his party "is pulling out of the government".

Macedonian lawmakers voted on Friday to rename their country the Republic of North Macedonia but the agreement will only come into effect with backing from the Greek parliament.

The proposal faces resistance in Greece, which has a northern province of the same name, over implied claims to Greek territory.

For many Greeks, Macedonia is the name of a history-rich northern province that was the cradle of Alexander the Great's ancient empire.

- 'Staged government divorce' -

Kammenos first threatened to pull out of the government after Tsipras signed the name change deal with Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev in June last year.

Kammenos said he and two other ANEL lawmakers would vote against the government but analysts say some ANEL MP's could be willing to back Tsipras in the confidence vote.

If a motion of no-confidence had been tabled by the opposition, the voting math would have been more difficult for Tsipras as the government would have needed 151 votes to avoid an election.

New Democracy on Sunday described the end of the Tsipras-Kammenos coalition as "a staged governmental divorce".

The conservative party said the "charade" aimed to allow the ratification of the Macedonia name change deal and keep Tsipras in power.

Centre-left To Potami leader Stavros Theodorakis said on Sunday that his party "won't give a vote of confidence to Mr. Tsipras" because "inefficiency and populism can't be rewarded".

- Coalition collapse -

Tsipras has already said he wants the Macedonia name change vote to take place soon.

New Democracy is vehemently against the agreement but Tsipras hopes to convince opposition MPs from smaller parties to back the historic name change deal.

Tsipras has said a separate vote on a protocol to enable Macedonia to join NATO would be held "not long afterwards".

Greece has previously blocked Macedonia's accession to NATO and the European Union.

The collapse of the Greek coalition has raised questions over how much longer Tsipras can stay in office.

Parliamentary elections are scheduled in October but local media speculate that polls could be held in May, coinciding with European parliament and local elections, or even sooner.

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