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Croatian PM survives confidence vote

Protests
Demonstrations have been held in Croatia against co-operating with The Hague  


ZAGREB, Croatia -- Croatia's government has survived a no-confidence vote over plans to extradite two suspects to the U.N. war crimes court.

The Cabinet won the support of 93 deputies in the 151-seat chamber, while 36 voted against it. The remaining lawmakers were absent.

The chamber is dominated by parties in Prime Minister Ivica Racan's coalition government, but the issue had initially driven a wedge in that coalition, opening up the possibility of a government collapse.

Racan had requested the vote, held on Sunday, to see whether his Cabinet, which took power from the nationalists 18 months ago, still had the chamber's backing following widespread opposition to his extradition plan.

Nearly every lawmaker insisted on commenting on the plan, leading to a debate that began on Sunday morning and continued past midnight into Monday.

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Many Croats are still unprepared to accept that their compatriots might have committed war crimes during the 1991 war for independence that began when minority Serbs rose against the former government's decision to split from Yugoslavia.

"It is hard for one nation to face dark pages of its history -- even harder for a small nation," Racan said just before the vote. "But we have to give a chance to the world to respect us, while also fighting for our truth."

Earlier, he said his government remains firmly committed to co- operation with the court in The Hague, Netherlands, warning that the noncompliance would prompt international isolation and possibly sanctions.

He also sought parliament's support for further economic reforms, but that topic was completely overshadowed by the war crimes issue.

Racan was hoping to get national consensus on such a sensitive issue, but members of the former governing party of the late president, Franjo Tudjman, remained adamant in rejecting the extradition plan.

"We'll fight for our beliefs for as long as it takes," Ivic Pasalic, a member of the nationalist Tudjman party, told parliament during the debate.

The decision last week to hand over two wartime commanders charged by The Hague court with atrocities against Serbs triggered fierce protests from war veterans and Tudjman's party.

They want the government to give up the extradition plan and reject, or reduce, cooperation with the court, arguing that prosecution of the country's generals tarnishes the whole independence war.

Croats remained divided over the issue, with many fearing the prosecution of Croats would diminish war crimes committed by some of the Serb rebels in 1991.

Del Ponte
U.N. prosecutor Del Ponte has pushed Croatia to hand over war crimes suspects  

The indictments remain sealed until the men are brought before the court. But government sources earlier said they stem from the 1993 and 1995 Croat offensives to regain lands seized by the Serb rebels. More than 150,000 Serbs fled the 1995 offensive and hundreds of those who stayed were killed.

Racan said Sunday his government will challenge some of the charges in the indictments, which apparently blame Croat troops for aiming to purge Serbs from Croatia. "But we'll do it in the Hague courtroom, not in conflict, in isolation," he said.

Croatia is under additional pressure to cooperate after Serbia recently extradited its ex-president, Slobodan Milosevic, to The Hague.

One of the suspects, Gen. Rahim Ademi, agreed to surrender voluntarily and is to fly to The Hague next week.

An arrest warrant was issued Friday against the other suspect, widely believed to be retired Gen. Ante Gotovina, a local commander during the 1995 offensive.

Gotovina, 46, has said earlier he is unwilling to face the court. His whereabouts remain unknown, and some of his fellow fighters have vowed to protect him against extradition.

Croatia's moderate government has survived a confidence vote in parliament called by Prime Minister Ivica Racan over his controversial decision to hand over war crimes suspects to The Hague-based U.N. war crimes court.

A total of 93 deputies from the 151-seat parliament backed Racan over the move to cooperate fully with the U.N. war crimes court, while 36 voted against the move.

The vote was preceded by an exhausting, polarised debate on the issue that lasted 16 hours.

The government was backed by deputies from the five parties of the ruling coalition, as well as those of regional parties and those representing ethnic minorities. The MPs of the main opposition Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) and rightist parties did not support Racan's cabinet.

Racan told deputies at the start of the session that a refusal to work with the U.N. tribunal would prevent Croatia becoming a democratic nation integrated into the rest of Europe.

"We cannot plunge Croatia into the obscurity of the Balkans," he said.






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• U.N. War Crimes Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia
• Government of the Republic of Croatia

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