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Ironduke
24 Nov 03,, 13:23
Nationalists lead in Croatia poll

First results from Croatia's general election suggest that opposition nationalists are poised to win a majority of seats in parliament.

With 50% of votes counted, the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) of the late President, Franjo Tudjman, was leading.

The state electoral commission said the HDZ and its two smaller allies would win 72 of the 140 seats available.

The parties making up the governing centre-left coalition were said to be likely to take 65 seats.

The BBC's Nick Hawton in Zagreb says the HDZ appears to have done a lot better than expected, but its chances of forming the next government will depend on coalition negotiations with smaller parties.

The centre-left coalition, led by Prime Minister Ivica Racan's Social Democrats, has not yet conceded victory to its opponents.

The outcome of the vote could have an impact on how quickly the European Union invites Croatia to join.

The new government will also face pressure to co-operate more with the United Nations war crimes tribunal, and to allow thousands of Serb refugees to return.

Reserved seats

The projections do not include up to 20 further seats allotted to minorities and Croatians abroad. The precise number depends on their turnout.

The election was Croatia's fourth since it gained independence in 1991.

More than four million people in the former Yugoslav republic were entitled to vote, including 400,000 who live outside the country.

President Tudjman led the country through the 1990s wars that led to the break-up of the old Yugoslavia.

His HDZ party has been in opposition for the past three years.

Its new leader, Ivo Sanader, claims the party has reformed from its more isolationist and nationalist policies of the past.

The party has also tried to exploit voters' frustration over the painful course of economic reforms launched by Mr Racan.

The current centre-left government had said that Croatia's speedy accession to the EU depended on it being re-elected.

Croatia applied for EU membership in February, and hopes to join the bloc in 2007.

'Clear winners'

Mr Sanader said his party's showing was "a brilliant victory".

"It is an order from Croatian voters that HDZ should get a mandate to form the new government," he said.

"We are the only, clear winners of these elections."

Mr Racan acknowledged that if the results held, he stood no chance of forming a new government.

"If these results becomes final, that indeed means that we won't be able to make a governing coalition," he said.

"In that case, I'd be able to congratulate to those who would probably be able to form the government and wish them all the luck."

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/3230260.stm