Tsipras shrugs off lawmaker's exit from fragile Greek coalition

 Tsipras shrugs off lawmakers exit from fragile Greek coalition

By George Georgiopoulos and Lefteris Papadimas

ATHENS (Reuters) - Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras shrugged off the resignation of a lawmaker from his fragile governing coalition on Tuesday that left the government with a wafer-thin majority.

"I am not worried at all," he said after a member of parliament from his junior coalition partner quit in protest at an agreement struck with neighbouring Macedonia to resolve a dispute over the country's name.

"This government managed to survive worse moments," Tsipras told reporters in London, where he met British Prime Minister Theresa May.

The government - which comprises Tsipras's leftist Syriza party and the right-wing Independent Greeks (ANEL) - would complete its four-year term that ends late next year "despite the designs and the silly ... schemes some are attempting", he added.

Greece and Macedonia signed a pact this month to rename the former Yugoslav state North Macedonia, in an attempt to end the decades-old dispute that has prevented Macedonia from joining the European Union and NATO.

But the deal has fuelled a storm of protest on both sides of the border; Macedonian President Gjorge Ivanov refused on Tuesday to sign the accord ratified by his country's parliament, calling it criminal. In northern Greece, protesters clashed with police on Monday night.

ANEL lawmaker George Lazaridis resigned on Tuesday. He is the second member of parliament to abandon the Independent Greeks this month, bringing the government down to just 152 seats out of 300 in parliament.

It is the slimmest majority for Tsipras since he won an election in 2015. Syriza is trailing in opinion polls, suffering the brunt of voters' discontent with economic reforms under international bailouts Greece has required since 2010.

Greece has just concluded a debt relief package with its creditors and any sign of political instability is likely to be closely watched by financial markets.

New Democracy, the opposition conservatives, have been consistently ahead in opinion polls for months. Yet Tsipras survived a no-confidence vote on June 16.

Tsipras turned to the Hollywood blockbuster Die Hard - which in Greek is called "Too Hard to Die" - to insist on his government's longevity. "We are too hard to die," he said with a laugh.

Many Greeks have long resented use of the name Macedonia by their northern neighbour, saying it implies territorial claims over a Greek province which shares the name.

ANEL lawmakers have consistently opposed any deal which would include the word "Macedonia" in the former Yugoslav republic's name. "ANEL has, from its inception, been against any use of the term 'Macedonia' by neighbours," Lazaridis wrote in his resignation letter.

(Additional reporting by Renee Maltezou and Angeliki Koutantou; Writing by Michele Kambas; editing by David Stamp)

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Updated Date: Jun 27, 2018 03:06:02 IST