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Croatia Holds Parliamentary Elections Sunday - 2003-11-22

Croatia holds parliamentary elections Sunday in which voters will choose between the current center-left coalition government and the nationalist party that led Croatia to independence from Yugoslavia and during the Balkan wars of the 1990s. Polls show many voters are dissatisfied with the government because of the country's economic difficulties.

Opinion polls give almost equal ratings to parties supporting the moderate coalition government, led by the Social Democrat Prime Minister Ivica Racan, and the nationalist opposition group that supports the Croatian Democratic Union, or HDZ, which was once led by late President Franjo Tudjman.

The growing strength of the HDZ has been linked to voter anger over charges of government corruption and high unemployment. Nearly one in five Croats is out of work.

Since no party is expected to win an outright majority in the 140-seat parliament, analysts expect a period of political wrangling over who will lead Croatia into the European Union, possible as early as 2007.

EU officials have suggested an HDZ victory could delay Croatia's entry. They still link the HDZ to the Balkan conflicts, including the massive expulsion of Serbs in 1995 to recapture lands seized four years earlier when Croatia fought for independence from Yugoslavia.

An estimated 280,000 Serbs fled the country. About 100,000 have returned. Ties between Croatia and Belgrade have improved since the death in 1999 of Mr. Tudjman, the founder of the HDZ, and the ouster of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic in 2000.

The man who now heads the HDZ, Ivo Sanader, says it favors membership in the European Union. He says it is even prepared to extradite General Ante Gotovina, wanted by the United Nations War Crimes Tribunal at The Hague. He is accused of massacring at least 150 ethnic Serbs during the 1991-1995 war in Croatia.