Republic of Macedonia Flag
Intro: The Macedonian parliament has approved changes to the country's flag, a move that opens the way for neighboring Greece to end the crippling economic blockade imposed on the former Yugoslav republic 18-months ago. V-O-A's Barry Wood reports impoverished Macedonia badly needs an improvement in its economic fortunes.
Text: Only two days after the assassination attempt on the country's President, the Macedonian parliament voted 110 to one to approve a new flag that is acceptable to Greece. The yellow and red colors are retained, but the 16-pointed star that Greece claims as its own symbol has been removed. The new banner has a stylized eight-ray sun that spreads over the length of the flag.
The parliamentary action is in line with the September 13th agreement in New York aimed at normalizing relations between the two countries. Under the U-S brokered accord, signed by the two foreign ministers, Greece and Macedonia agreed to normalize relations within 30-days. Greece agreed to lift the economic blockade while Macedonia said it would change its flag and constitution to remove any hint of a territorial claim on Greece's northern Macedonia province.
The first round of bi-lateral Greek-Macedonian talks ended amicably late Wednesday in Athens. Greece continues to object to the name Macedonia, but that issue is to be resolved later.
Landlocked Macedonia, with two-million inhabitants, was the poorest republic in the Yugoslav federation. Alone among the former Yugoslav republics Macedonia achieved its independence peacefully. It separated in 1991. It has sought to retain good relations with all the former Yugoslav republics.
But Macedonia has suffered economically from both the U-N sanctions against Serbia and Montenegro and the Greek blockade. The fragile Macedonian economy has been crippled, billions of dollars of output and transit income has been lost, industrial production has plummeted, north-south transit links, between Greece and Serbia were cut, and living standards have fallen steeply from an already low level.
Macedonian officials say only opening the Greek border can offer the promise of an economic turnaround. With an end to the embargo in sight, there may be prospects for improvement. But the assassination attempt on the president and the political turmoil it has caused tempers that optimism. (SIGNED)
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