Vol 2, No 12
27 March 2000
C E N T R A L E U R O P E A N N E W S:
News Round-up for Croatia
News from Croatia since 20 March 2000
The first signs of dissonance in the coalition government appeared on the surface this week.
The President of one of the coalition parties, the Istrian Democratic Assembly (IDS), and Minister of European Integration Ivan Jakovčić announced that he and his party would leave the coalition and government, if the "Istarska Banka" problem was not resolved soon. Namely, the Croatian National Bank (HNB) decided on Thursday to introduce special measures, including a three month blockade of all savings, which caused an outrage among people who have their savings in that bank (including Minister Jakovčić). Jakovčić explained that he found no understanding among the HNB and government for his efforts to save the bank from bankruptcy. He announced that if the problem is not resolved fast, he will resign from government and lead the Association of Savers of "Istarska Banka."
The other party to express its dissatisfaction with the behaviour of its coalition partners was the Croatian People's Party (HNS). The HNS is not happy with the agreement of the coalition parties on the distribution of constituencies for the upcoming elections in Zagreb. The HNS was not attributed any constituency, although public opinion polls show that they are the third most popular party, with seven to ten per cent of possible votes. They announced the possibility of running alone in the elections, that is, to become an opposition to the ruling coalition.
Elections to the Zagreb City Assembly will be carried out on 7 May, Prime Minister Ivica Račan announced.
Vesna Pusić will be the new President of the HNS, current President and Minister of Public Works Radimir Čačić announced. The decisions will be made at the party congress in April.
Mladen Naletilić-Tuta, indicted for war crimes committed during the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina, was extradited to the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in The Hague on Tuesday. The ICTY indicted Naletilić in 1998 and requested Croatia to extradite him, as he was being held in prison in Croatia - for other crimes. However, the extradition was postponed, because of Naletilić's health condition. Finally, a medical team of the ICTY examined him last week and decided he was capable of travelling. The extradition took place in maximum secrecy.
All international organisations and foreign governments welcomed the extradition of Naletilić as "a sign of the good will of the Croatian authorities to co-operate with the international community."
Zlatko Aleksovski, another Croatian citizen accused of war crimes in Central Bosnia, was sentenced to seven years of imprisonment by the ICTY. He had originally been sentenced to 30 months, but the prosecutor's office appealed. This verdict is final.
Prime Minister Račan met with Archbishop of Zagreb Josip Bozanić on Friday. It was their first official meeting. Račan announced that the government would soon establish a special commission for relations with religious communities and that it would respect the contracts that the previous government signed with the Holy See.
Both houses of Parliament voted in favour of the government's (redrafted) proposal for this year's state budget. Minister of Finance Mato Crkvenac explained that the government was not able to accept the majority of (several hundreds of) amendments, since it is not in a position to secure money for all the required purposes. Before the voting, the representatives of the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) and Croatian Party of Rights (HSP) in the upper house (House of Counties) protested against the fact that the government refused to declare its position on the amendments proposed in the House and said that the government does not respect the House and violates its constitutional position.
The House of Counties (for the first time in this mandate) used its constitutional right of applying a suspension veto on a law passed in the lower house (House of Representatives). It rejected the Law on Postponement of Implementation of the Law on Child Care Aid. The government had announced that it had no money to pay this aid to all the children, as the law prescribed. The upper house believed, on the other hand, that the government was obliged to obey the law and find the money for this purpose. The lower house will thus have to hold the debate on this law again.
The Federal Republic of Yugoslavia opened its Consulate General in the Croatian town of Rijeka. Croatia and FRY agreed on the opening of Yugoslav consulates in Rijeka and Vukovar and Croatian consulates in Subotica and Kotor.
After a months-long trial, Vinko Sindičić, a member of the former Yugoslav secret services, was cleared of accusations that he had murdered Croatian emigrant Bruno Bušić in Paris in 1978. He was immediately released from detention.
The members of the Association of Peasants of Slavonia and Baranja blocked the road between Osijek and Đakovo on Thursday morning, to protest unpaid debts and the difficult financial situation in which they find themselves. They rejected allegations that the protest was politically motivated.
The Headquarters for the Defence of Rights of Returnees and Displaced Persons of Osijek-Baranja County organised a blockade of the Zagreb-Lipovac highway on Thursday, to protest against the government's reduction of financial resources for the return of displaced persons in this year's state budget.
The unemployment rate reached its highest peak since 1952, the State Bureau for Employment announced. 355,272 persons are unemployed in Croatia, which is 4500 more than a month ago.
There will be no general strike as had been previously announced, the trade unions and the government stated after a meeting, in which they reached an agreement on the problem of salaries of state employees. Contrary to the government's plans to cut salaries by five per cent, the new agreement stipulates they will be reduced by approximately two per cent.
New prominent former members of the HDZ are joining the newly established party of Mate Granić and Vesna Škare-Ožbolt, the Croatian Democratic Centre (DC). This week, former Prime Minister and Head of the President's Office Hrvoje Šarinić, former Speaker of the Parliament Žarko Domljan and several other MPs joined the DC.
The Zagreb Airport's VIP lounge was crowded this week again, both in the departure and arrival halls.
President Stipe Mesić went to visit Bosnia-Herzegovina, where he met with prominent politicians of that country, who welcomed the announcements of the shift in Croatia's policy toward its neighbour.
Speaker of the Parliament Zlatko Tomčić visited Hungary, and a day later, joined the speaker of the upper house, Katica Ivanišević, for a visit to Warsaw (where there was a session of parliamentary speakers of the member-states of the Central European Initiative).
Foreign Minister Tonino Picula visited Geneva and then Vienna. In Geneva, he met with UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson and President of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) Michael Moore. In his address to the UN Commission on Human Rights, Picula demanded that Croatia be exempted from permanent monitoring of human rights. On the next day, Picula visited Vienna and spoke at a session of the permanent assembly of the Organisation for Co-operation and Security in Europe (OSCE). He supported the extension of the mandate of the OSCE mission to Croatia by the end of this year, claiming that "Croatia needs credible witnesses of its progress."
Deputy US Secretary of Defence Walter Slocombe visited Zagreb and met with Defence Minister Jozo Radoš and the President's advisor on defence, Gen Imra Agotić. They discussed new plans for military co-operation between the US and Croatia.
Deputy Foreign Minister Vesna Cvjetković-Kurelec went to Lisbon and attended a meeting of liberal parties represented in the European Parliament. She also held bilateral talks with Portuguese state officials on the possibilities of improvements in relations between Croatia and the EU. Portugal is currently chairing the Council of Ministers of the EU.
Saša Cvijetić, 26 March 2000
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