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Leaders of Greece and North Macedonia snap a selfie

North Macedonia's Prime Minister Zoran Zaev and Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras attend a welcoming ceremony in Skopje, North Macedonia

The prime ministers of Greece and North Macedonia have engaged in selfie diplomacy during the first official visit by a Greek leader to the neighbouring country following decades of strained relations over a name dispute.

North Macedonia premier Zoran Zaev held up a mobile phone while standing beside Greek counterpart Alexis Tspiras, snapping the historic selfies outside the main government building in the capital Skopje.

The former Yugoslav republic officially changed its name earlier this year from Macedonia to North Macedonia, settling a dispute with Greece that lasted nearly three decades.

“We have lost a lot of time and now we must rapidly catch up,” Mr Tsipras told reporters at a joint news conference. “We want to build a strong bond of trust and stability.

“When I used to take a plane to Europe, the pilot would avoid the air space of what was the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia. Now we will no longer have this nonsense. We might fly around here just to say hello.”

Leaders and ministers from the two countries signed multiple friendship agreements to establish embassies in both capitals, ease trade barriers and for the Greek military to police North Macedonia’s air space.

Mr Tsipras traveled to Skopje with 10 cabinet ministers and more than 100 business representatives.

North Macedonia is due to become the next member of Nato after Greece dropped its objections.

Mr Tsipras and Mr Zaev both faced strong domestic opposition to their agreement reached last summer to normalise relations, resolving the emotive issue tied to national identity in the two countries.

Greek opponents of the agreement staged several large rallies in Athens and other cities to try to press the government to abandon the deal.

Greece opposed the use of the name Macedonia, arguing that it posed a threat to its own administrative region of Macedonia as well as the region’s ancient history and heritage that includes the legacy of the warrior king Alexander the Great.

Distrust among Balkan nations over borders, ethnic minorities and national narratives dates back more than a century when countries in the region fought the Ottoman Empire and each other to establish and expand new nations.

That hostility was maintained by wars that only ended in the late 1990s following the break-up of the former Yugoslavia.

Western governments enthusiastically backed the deal, wary of rival influence in the Balkans by Russia, which views Nato’s expansion as a threat.

“It is a milestone to be leaving all these difficulties behind,” Mr Zaev said. “We have showed Europe and the world that with bold decisions anything is possible.”

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