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Greek Leader Calls for Vote of Confidence After Minister Quits Over Macedonia Deal

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LONDON — Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras called on Sunday for an “immediate” vote of confidence in the Greek government, hours after the defense minister announced that he would quit the governing coalition in protest of a deal ending a dispute with Macedonia over its name.

Defense Minister Panos Kammenos’s decision came days after Macedonian lawmakers agreed to officially change the country’s name to the Republic of North Macedonia, ending a long dispute and opening the door for the small Balkan nation’s membership in NATO and the European Union.

If other members of Mr. Kammenos’s right-wing minority coalition party, the Independent Greeks, quit, it would most likely result in a minority Greek government.

The vote of confidence is expected to take place in Parliament on Thursday.

“For almost four years I had an honorable and honest cooperation with Panos Kammenos,” Mr. Tsipras said in a statement, thanking the defense minister for his “irreplaceable, important contribution” to the government.

Mr. Tsipras appointed Adm. Evaggelos Apostolakis, the director of the Hellenic National Defense General Staff, as defense minister.

After months of friction with Mr. Tsipras over the Macedonia name change, Mr. Kammenos, founder of the Independent Greeks, said on Sunday that he would step down as defense minister and as part of the governing coalition.

“This coalition cannot go on,” he said in a statement, adding at a news conference that it was with a heavy heart that he would have to say “no” to the Macedonia deal.

“The matter of Macedonia does not allow me not to sacrifice the ministerial chair,” he declared.

After Mr. Tsipras’s announcement, Mr. Kammenos said he would not support a confidence vote in Parliament.

The vote by Macedonian lawmakers on Friday was one step toward ending a long-running dispute with Greece, where a northern region also bears the Macedonia name. But many in Greece say that any support for the Balkan country’s adoption of a name that includes the word Macedonia amounted to treason.

The name change is subject to approval by the Greek Parliament, but a date on the measure has not been announced.

Thousands of Greeks took to the streets over the summer to protest the agreement over the name change, adding further pressure on Mr. Kammenos to adhere to his much-repeated line that he was ideologically opposed to the Macedonia deal.

Greece’s next parliamentary elections are scheduled for October 2019, and it was not immediately clear on Sunday whether two other Independent Greeks ministers, the tourism minister, Elena Kountoura, and the deputy minister for rural development, Vasilis Kokkalis, would quit the government as Mr. Kammenos did.

But Mr. Kammenos made it clear on Sunday that if Independent Greeks in Parliament voted in favor of the government, they would be expelled from the party.

Mr. Tsipras’s government has 153 seats in the 300-member Parliament. He suggested in a television interview on Wednesday that he would prefer to call snap elections rather than lead a minority government, which would be “a problem politically.” On Sunday, however, he appeared to opt for the less risky step of calling for a confidence vote.

The prime minister assumed the duties of the foreign minister in October in order to lead the negotiations on the Macedonia deal, drawing praise from the European Union for helping to steer the agreement.

In a two-day visit to Greece last week, Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany expressed gratitude to Mr. Tsipras for leading efforts to resolve the 27-year dispute between Athens and Skopje.

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