Croatia is facing political turmoil, after Prime Minister Ivo Sanader suddenly resigned, citing personal reasons.  Mr. Sanader's announcement comes amid economic concerns in the country that has been trying to join the European Union.

Croatian Prime Minister Ivo Sanader unexpectedly announced his resignation Wednesday at a hastily arranged news conference.

The 56-year-old leader of the Croatian Democratic Union party had been prime minister since 2003.

Mr. Sanader told reporters he decided to withdraw from politics after two decades not for health reasons, but because he wanted a new beginning in his life.  He said important goals were realized under his leadership.

Prime Minister Sanader explains he is satisfied with "the strategic objectives that were achieved."  He explains that Croatia "became a member of NATO, the U.N. Security Council and is now on the doorstep to become a full member of the European Union."

Mr. Sanader says despite his resignation, negotiations on EU membership could be completed within three months.  The prime minister says he had the honor to serve the people in politics, but he adds: "My job has been done, my political life ends now."
Mr. Sanader made it clear he would not run for president in early 2010.  He recommended that Croatian President Stipe Mesic name Deputy Prime Minister Jadranka Kosor to be the new prime minister.   

Commentators have warned Mr. Sanader's sudden departure will leave a political vacuum at a time when Croatia already faces instability because of the global financial crisis.

Croatia's economy is not doing well and unemployment has risen steadily.  The country's gross domestic product plunged 6.7 percent in the first three months of this year, the largest drop in a decade.  In addition EU entry talks are currently stalled because of Croatia's border dispute with neighbor Slovenia.

European Union officials have urged Croatia to settle Mr. Sanader's succession "rapidly" and to continue with reforms needed to join the European Union.

That view is shared by neighboring Hungary, one of the most vocal supporters of Croatian EU membership. 

Hungarian Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Zsuzsanna Matrai told VOA News her country finds it crucial for Croatia to join the Union soon to create more stability in the Balkans.

"To help them, that is why we keep on giving advise [to Croatia] how to integrate, how to harmonize their legal system," said Matrai.  "We have always advocated for any kind of enlargement.  Given our geographical situation we have been advocating the whole Western Balkan region, including Croatia."   

But the Hungarian Prime Minister's Office confirmed to VOA News that a key meeting of the Croatian and Hungarian governments scheduled for Friday, has been canceled because of Mr. Sanader's sudden resignation.

Croatia's opposition Social Democrats have said the political turmoil shows it is time for early elections.  The next parliamentary poll is scheduled in two years.