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Social Democrat Josipovic wins presidential election

Social Democrat Ivo Josipovic won Croatia's presidential election Monday, securing 60 percent of votes, according to the country’s electoral commission. Josipovic has pledged to fight corruption and lead Croatia into the EU.


AFP - Social Democrat Ivo Josipovic, who pledged to lead Croatia into the European Union and crack down on corruption, was elected president with over 60 percent of the vote, official results showed Monday.


Josipovic won 60.29 percent of the vote in Sunday's election, according to official results released by the electoral commission. The figures take into account the results of 99.62 percent of all polling stations, the commission said.

Josipovic, 52, a lecturer in criminal law and a classical music composer who has enjoyed an untarnished political career, vowed if elected president to wage an "uncompromising fight against corruption" and to achieve Zagreb's goal of joining the EU in 2012.

"This was definitely a referendum for Croatian citizens ... whether we want a European, modern Croatia or another one," Mirando Mrsic, the head of Josipovic's campaign team, said after exit poll results tipped Josipovic to win.

The rival candidate, populist Zagreb Mayor Milan Bandic, ran on a largely similar platform but managed to secure only 39.71 percent of the vote.

Commentators said the race between the bookish law professor and the outspoken and devout Catholic mayor had polarised Croatians who felt they had to choose between a "civil left or a nationalism playing with right-wing sentiments, a modern or a conservative Croatia".

Josipovic's election is "certainly an important step towards a boosting of ties between Zagreb and Brussels," Radovan Vukadinovic, an international relations expert, told AFP.

"He will try to make Croatia a country that can serve as an example to others in the region that are aspiring to join the EU.

"The process of EU integration of the region thus gets an important new dimension and provides a possibility to develop even better ties with Europe," he told AFP.

Of the six republics that made up Yugoslavia before it collapsed in a series of wars in the 1990s -- Bosnia, Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and Slovenia -- only the latter is an EU member.

The fight against corruption is a key challenge if Croatia -- which joined NATO last year -- wants to succeed in its bid to join the European bloc and put the trauma of the war further behind it.

Several investigations are under way into alleged graft at state-run firms. More than a dozen officials have already been detained.

Josipovic, who will be Croatia's third president since its independence in 1991, has also promised to try to help pull the country's economy out of recession.

Unemployment is running at around 16 percent, and Zagreb has forecast a contraction of up to 6.0 percent in its economy for 2009. Its external debt is meanwhile nearly 94 percent of gross domestic product.

For all his campaign pledges, the day-to-day running of Croatia is largely in the hands of a conservative government led by Prime Minister Jadranka Kosor, as the president has limited powers.

Josipovic's election was also hailed by Croatian Serb leader Milorad Pupovac.

"Josipovic is the man that Croatia needs to continue the fight against corruption, reform the judiciary and economy, join the EU and settle relations with the neighbours, notably Serbia," Pupovac was quoted by local media as saying.

Ties between Croatia and Serbia have gradually improved since the 1991-1995 war during which the Belgrade regime backed Serb rebels.

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