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Croatian Democratic Union Has Slim Lead in Parliamentary Elections - 2003-11-24


In Croatia, the nationalist Croatian Democratic Union has a slim lead over the center-left coalition government, according to partial results of Sunday's parliamentary elections. The leader of the Croatian Democratic Union claimed victory Sunday night. As results were tallied, Croatian Prime Minister Ivica Racan cautioned that whoever claims victory could, in his words "look forward to difficult challenges." Analysts have noted growing voter frustration with Mr. Racan's government amid high unemployment of around 18 percent.

If confirmed, the results would mark a major comeback for the Croatian Democratic Union. The party lost the elections in 2000, after the death of its founder, former President Franjo Tudjman, who led the country to independence from Yugoslavia in 1991 and through years of bitter war.

The new leader of the party, known as the HDZ, claims it is no longer the staunch nationalist and isolationist party it was under Mr. Tudjman, and is committed to taking Croatia into the European Union and NATO.

Some Western officials are skeptical that the party has changed, and have suggested that electing an HDZ-led government could delay Croatia's entry into the EU. They say cooperation with the U.N. war crimes tribunal is a key issue.

HDZ leader Ivo Sanader told reporters Sunday his party had changed, and that it is prepared to extradite alleged war criminals to the United Nations Tribunal at The Hague.

Mr. Sanader stressed this would be part of "fulfilling Croatia's international obligations," to ensure the Balkan nation of 4.5 million people can join NATO in 2006 and the European Union in 2007.

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