Macedonia’s president has refused to sign a historic deal that would change the country’s name.
An agreement had been forged with neighbouring Greece to rename the nation as the Republic of North Macedonia – but Gjorge Ivanov has claimed the deal has given too many concessions to Athens.
Greece argues that the name “Macedonia” implies a claim on the territory and ancient heritage of its own northern province of the same name, the birthplace of Alexander the Great.
The name dispute has prevented Macedonia from joining institutions such as NATO and caused diplomatic tensions to bubble since the Balkan country declared independence from Yugoslavia in 1991.
“Such a harmful agreement, which is unique in the history of mankind, is shameful and unacceptable for me,” Mr Ivanov said in a televised speech.
He added: “It violates the Constitution (and) the laws… I will not legalise political illegal agreements.
“Everything that is sacred to Macedonia is being trampled underfoot, and the unborn are deprived of the right and pride to be Macedonians.”
The deal has been agreed upon by prime ministers from both nations, and is expected to be signed by their respective foreign ministers in the coming days.
Following a parliamentary vote in Macedonia, the president would be required to sign the deal to enact it.
If Mr Ivanov refuses, parliament would be asked to vote again. If approved for a second time, the president would be obligated to sign it regardless of his own beliefs.
European Council President Donald Tusk and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg issued a statement on Wednesday welcoming the deal.
“We hope that this unique opportunity to relaunch the wider Western Balkan region’s European and Euro-Atlantic integration will not be wasted,” the statement said.
“This agreement sets an example for others on how to consolidate peace and stability across the region.”
Large public protests have erupted and internal rifts within each countries’ governments have formed.
Up to 1,500 people held a peaceful protest while chanting “traitors” outside Macedonia’s parliament in Skopje late Wednesday.
Greek opponents of the deal are expected to rally in Athens on Friday.
Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras also faces opposition at home.
Defence Minister Panos Kammenos, whose right-wing party is the coalition partner in Mr Tsipras’ government, said he would oppose the agreement in a parliamentary vote.
This would leave the left-wing prime minister dependent on support from political opponents to ratify the deal in parliament.
In Macedonia, the prime minister has said he will put the deal to a referendum in the fall, whereas a public vote has been ruled out in Greece.