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Posts tagged ‘Adriatic Land of Croatia’

Croats vote in close parliamentary race as virus spikes

July 05, 2020

ZAGREB, Croatia (AP) — Amid a spike of new coronavirus cases, voters in Croatia cast ballots on Sunday in what is expected be a close parliamentary race that could push the latest European Union member state further to the right.

The ballot is expected to produce no clear winner as neither the ruling conservatives nor their main liberal opponents appeared set to win a majority in the 151-member parliament. This means that a newcomer right-wing party led by a popular folk singer could play a key role in the future government. Miroslav Skoro’s Homeland Movement has polled third despite public outrage over some of his staunchly hard-line and nationalist views.

Skoro’s party is believed to have chipped away votes from the ruling Croatian Democratic Union, a conservative party that has dominated the political scene in Croatia since the independence in 1991. The HDZ is bidding for reelection while faced with a renewed surge in virus cases that followed reopening of the country’s borders and easing of lockdown rules. Croatia is struggling to salvage its main source of revenue — tourism along the Adriatic Sea coast.

A country of 4.2 million people, Croatia has kept the outbreak largely under control, reporting around 113 deaths and some 3,100 confirmed infections. But Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic was criticized over an outbreak at a tennis tournament organized by top-ranked Novak Djokovic in the coastal town of Zadar.

Plenkovic’s main opponents are Restart coalition led by the center-left Social Democratic Party, the main liberal group. They say the government is plagued by corruption and voters should choose a new beginning if they want the country to move forward.

Restart could also ally with a new green-left alliance further on the left, if they gain enough seats. The group led by Mozemo, or We Can, party is strong mostly in the capital Zagreb but not so much in other parts of Croatia.

Some 3.8 million people are eligible to vote but analysts say virus fears could keep many at home. Voters have been advised to take own temperature and stay away if they have a fever. Those who vote should bring their own pen and wear a mask.

Croatia to hold election amid virus, political uncertainty

July 03, 2020

ZAGREB, Croatia (AP) — Croatia is holding a parliamentary election this weekend amid a coronavirus outbreak and with no clear winner in sight as none of the main contenders appears set to garner a majority of votes.

The ballot on Sunday will take place as Croatia, like other parts of Europe, contends with a renewed spike in reported virus cases that followed the reopening of borders and easing of lockdown rules. The country’s current conservative government, which initially handled the public health crisis relatively successfully, has sought continued support from voters. But polls have suggested a liberal coalition has a slight lead over the ruling Croatian Democratic Union.

Here is a look at who’s who on Croatia’s political scene and what’s at stake:

WHO ARE THE MAIN PLAYERS?

The governing Croatian Democratic Union, or HDZ, has dominated the political scene since steering Croatia to independence in 1991 from the former Yugoslavia and through the war that followed.

Staunchly nationalist in the past, the HDZ has moved toward the conservative center under the leadership of Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic. The shift has alienated some of the party’s right-wing supporters.

The party’s main challenger for the right to govern is the center-left Social Democratic Party, which allied with several smaller groups to form a joint Restart candidates’ list. The alliance has urged voters to choose a new beginning as opposed to the ruling party’s message of choosing a safe bet.

The Social Democratic Party led the Croatian government a few times in the past, and its candidate won the second round of the country’s presidential election in January. Restart has topped pre-election polls, but analysts say the conservatives are not far behind.

WHO ELSE IS IN THE GAME?

None of the remaining parties are as strong as the main players, but two new groups have emerged in the election from both the left and the right. The right-wing Homeland Movement, which is led by folk singer Miroslav Skoro, is believed to be chipping away votes from the ruling HDZ party. Skoro ran for president last year and finished third in the election’s first round.

On the left, a new green-left coalition led by the Mozemo, or We Can group, has gathered civic activists and gained ground particularly in the capital, Zagreb. The group has attracted voters who are disappointed with the center-left SDP’s record in politics.

WHAT COULD HAPPEN AFTER THE VOTE?

If predictions prove right and no party gains a majority of the future parliament’s 151 seats, a coalition government will have to be formed. This means post-election negotiations could take a while before a new Cabinet takes office.

Analysts think a right-wing coalition is more likely to emerge between the conservatives and Skoro’s movement. The center-left Restart might try to form a majority with liberal Mozemo and other smaller groups, if they win enough seats.

FACTS ABOUT CROATIA

The predominantly conservative Catholic nation of 4.2 million people is best known for its beautiful Adriatic Sea coast and hundreds of islands that are usually packed with tourists during the summer holiday season. The walled city of Dubrovnik, the location of the fictional King’s Landing in the TV series “Game of Thrones,” is a globally famous destination.

Croatia’s economy remains among the weakest in the European Union, and the country is struggling to avoid huge financial damage from the loss of tourism during the coronavirus pandemic. The last country to be admitted to the EU, Croatia also is a member of NATO.

WHAT IS THE VIRUS SITUATION?

Croatia’s is seeing a spike of several dozen new cases of infections daily, but authorities say the situation is under control. Prime Minister Plenkovic has appealed to all right-leaning voters to continue backing his government, saying “This is no time for charlatans.”

While Croatia had reported fewer than 3,000 virus cases and 110 deaths in all as of Thursday, Plenkovic’s team was shaken after a cluster of new cases came out of a tennis tournament organized by top-ranked Serbian player Novak Djokovic in the coastal town of Zadar.

Several players, including Djokovic, have tested positive for the virus and Plenkovic faced criticism for not isolating after meeting them.

HOW IS VOTING ORGANIZED?

Polls open at 0500 GMT on Sunday and close 12 hours later. Exit polls are expected to be available immediately after polls close, while preliminary official results will start coming in an hour or two later.

Analysts say the virus outbreak could lead to low turnout among Croatia’s 3.8 million voters. Authorities have urged voters to bring their own pens and to stay home if they have fevers. Face masks and hygiene supplies are mandatory at the polling stations.

Prague train with 500 tourists boosts Croatia tourism hopes

July 01, 2020

ZAGREB, Croatia (AP) — A train carrying about 500 tourists from the Czech Republic and Slovakia arrived to Croatia on Wednesday morning as the country seeks to attract visitors after easing lockdown measures against the coronavirus.

The train rolled into the station in the northern Croatian port of Rijeka after an all-night journey that started in Czech capital Prague. The tourists were then bused to their destinations along the Adriatic Sea coast.

The Croatian coastline is a leading European tourism destination, particularly for visitors from Central and Eastern Europe who can easily access it by car or train. “It was great,” said a Czech tourist who identified himself only by his first name Filip. “The only thing that was different is that we had to wear face masks the whole time.”

Croatia is hoping to salvage as much as possible of the summer tourism season, which has been badly hurt by the virus outbreak. The country’s economy is among the weakest in the European Union and largely dependent on tourism income.

“We are hoping that this will increase the number of tourists here. There are currently around 300,000 of them vacationing in Croatia,” said Tourism Minister Gari Capelli, who welcomed the visitors in Rijeka.

Capelli said the train will run daily and that around 30,000 tickets already have been sold despite a renewed spike in virus cases with the easing of lockdown rules throughout Europe. Croatia has had 2,777 confirmed cases while 107 people have died. Millions of tourists normally visit Croatia each year, mostly staying at the Adriatic Sea coastline or on the islands.

EU chair Croatia votes in tight presidential runoff

January 05, 2020

ZAGREB, Croatia (AP) — Voters in Croatia on Sunday cast ballots to choose a new president in a fiercely contested runoff race, with a liberal opposition candidate challenging the conservative incumbent while the country presides over the European Union during a crucial period.

Croatia took over the EU’s rotating presidency on Jan. 1. for the first time since joining the bloc in 2013. This means that the EU’s newest member state will be tasked with overseeing Britain’s divorce from the union on Jan. 31 and the start of post-Brexit talks.

Sunday’s runoff presidential vote is expected to be a very tight and unpredictable race. It’s being held because none of the candidates won more than half of the votes in the first round on Dec. 22. Current President Kolinda Grabar Kitarovic is running for a second term, challenged by leftist former Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic.

Milanovic won slightly more votes than Grabar Kitarovic in the first round but analysts have warned there is no clear favorite in the runoff and that each vote counts. There are 3.8 million voters in Croatia, a country of 4.2 million that is also a member of NATO.

The two candidates represent the two main political options in Croatia: Grabar Kitarovic is backed by the governing, conservative Croatian Democratic Union, a dominating political force since the country split from the former Yugoslavia in 1991, while Milanovic enjoys support from the leftist Social Democrats and their liberal allies.

Even though the presidency is largely ceremonial in Croatia, Sunday’s election is important as a test ahead of parliamentary elections expected later this year. Milanovic’s victory over Grabar Kitarovic would rattle the conservative government during the crucial EU presidency and weaken its grip on power in an election year.

While starting out stronger, support for Grabar Kitarovic had been slashed following a series of gaffes in the election campaign. The 51-year-old had a career in diplomacy and in NATO before becoming Croatia’s first female president in 2015. Going into the runoff vote, Grabar Kitarovic evoked the Croatian unity during the 1991-95 war in a bid to attract far-right votes to her side.

The 53-year-old Milanovic is leading the struggling liberals’ bid to regain clout in the predominantly right-leaning nation. Prone to populist outbursts while prime minister, Milanovic lost popularity after the ouster of his government in 2016. He now says he has learned from the experience and matured. Milanovic has urged the voters to give him a chance to surprise them.

Though a member of the EU, Croatia is still coping with graft and economic woes, partly because of the consequences of the 1991-95 conflict that erupted because of Croatia’s decision to leave the Serb-led Yugoslav federation. The Catholic Church plays an important role in the society

Croatia’s presidential contest heads to Jan. 5 runoff vote

December 23, 2019

ZAGREB, Croatia (AP) — Croatia’s conservative president will face a liberal former prime minister in a runoff election early next month after no candidate won an outright majority in a first round of voting Sunday, near-complete results showed.

The vote was held just days before Croatia takes over the European Union’s presidency for the first time. The governing conservatives are hoping to to keep their grip on power ahead of assuming the EU chairmanship.

Left-wing former Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic led the field with nearly 30% of the votes in preliminary returns. President Kolinda Grabar Kitarovic had almost 27%, the state election authorities said after counting almost all ballots.

Right-wing singer Miroslav Skoro was in third place with around 24%. Some 3.8 million voters in the EU’s newest member country chose from among 11 candidates in Sunday’s election, but only the top three finishers had been considered serious contenders.

Milanovic and Grabar Kitarovic now will face each other in a second round of voting Jan. 5. Although the incumbent finished second in the first round, analysts said Grabar Kitarovic could be considered a favorite in the runoff because other right-leaning challengers would no longer be in contention.

Addressing supporters, Grabar Kitarovic called for all those on the right to unite behind her candidacy in the second round. She described the first round as a “10 on 1 battle.” “Unlike Mr. Milanovic, I had a tough fellow-candidate at my political specter,” Grabar Kitarovic said. “Now, we must all gather together and go for a victory!”

Milanovic, too, said he can win and called for a “civilized civic match” and not a battle, referring to traditionally deep divisions in Crotia between the political left and right. “We are going to the second round, not a war,” he said. “Let the better one of us win and I believe I am better.”

Croatia’s presidency is largely ceremonial. The office holder formally commands the army and represents the country abroad. But retaining the post is important for the ruling Croatian Democratic Union party, known as HDZ, as Croatia prepares for its six-month term in the EU presidency. The job will include overseeing Britain’s departure from the bloc, expected to take place Jan. 31, and the start of post-Brexit trade talks.

Grabar Kitarovic started off her campaign looking strong but her position weakened after a series of gaffes. The 51-year-old incumbent is known for flirting with the extreme right while seeking also to portray herself as a peoples’ president.

Milanovic promised during the campaign to turn Croatia into a “normal,” tolerant country. Although Croatia has recovered since the devastating 1991-95 war that followed the breakup of former Yugoslavia, it still is one of the poorest nations in the EU and corruption is believed to be widespread.

The nation of 4.2 million people is best known for its stunning Adriatic Sea coast, which includes over 1,000 islands and picturesque coastal towns such as the medieval walled city of Dubrovnik. Critics blasted the government for setting the election date three days before Christmas, a time when many people travel abroad. The governing HDZ party, they said, counted on the support from Croats who live abroad and normally flock home for the holidays.

Analysts said the strong showing by the right-wing Skoro party signaled that the governing HDZ had lost some support among party followers ahead of a parliamentary election set for next year.

Croats pick president in tight test for ruling conservatives

December 22, 2019

ZAGREB, Croatia (AP) — Voters in Croatia cast ballots Sunday in a tight presidential election, with the ruling conservatives seeking to keep their grip on power days before the country takes over the European Union’s rotating presidency for the first time.

Some 3.8 million voters in the EU’s newest member are picking among 11 candidates, but only three are considered to be contenders in the vote held on rainy day during Christmas holiday season. Conservative incumbent Kolinda Grabar Kitarovic is running for a second term, challenged by leftist former Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic and right-wing singer Miroslav Skoro.

Although the post is largely ceremonial in Croatia — the president formally commands the army and represents the country abroad — keeping the presidency is important for the ruling Croatian Democratic Union party as its government is set to assume the EU chairmanship on Jan. 1. That job will include overseeing Britain’s departure from the bloc, expected on Jan. 31, and the start of post-Brexit trade talks.

Analysts predict that a presidential runoff vote will have to be held in two weeks as no candidate is expected to win an outright majority. Grabar Kitarovic started off stronger but her position has weakened after a series of gaffes during the campaign. She is still believed to have a slight lead going into the election, followed closely by Milanovic. Skoro is trailing in third.

“We are deciding in which direction Croatia will go,” Grabar Kitarovic said upon voting in Zagreb, the capital. The 51-year-old incumbent is known for flirting with the extreme right while seeking also to portray herself as a peoples’ president. Milanovic during campaign promised to turn Croatia into a “normal” tolerant country, while Skoro played an anti-establishment, nationalist card.

Although Croatia has recovered since the devastating 1991-95 war that followed the breakup of former Yugoslavia, it still is one of the poorest nations in the EU and corruption is believed to be widespread. The nation of 4.2 million people is best known for its stunning Adriatic Sea coast, which includes over 1,000 islands and picturesque coastal towns such as the medieval walled city of Dubrovnik.

Critics have blasted the government for setting the election date three days before Christmas, a time when many people travel abroad. The ruling HDZ party, they said, counts on the support from Croats who live abroad and normally flock home for the holidays.

After voting in Zagreb, Milanovic predicted there would be a runoff. “We have done all we could, I have done my best,” he said. “People could see that and now it is up to them to decide.” Skoro urged citizens not to stay at home because of the rain.

“The voters decide today about the future of our country,” he said. “Changes have to happen and people must come out to vote despite bad weather.”

Croatia’s top oyster farmers in alarm after norovirus found

March 11, 2019

MALI STON, Croatia (AP) — Oyster farming is the pride of this small town in the south of Croatia’s Adriatic Sea coast. But tasting the famed local delicacy may not be a good idea at the moment. Authorities have detected norovirus, which causes diarrhea and vomiting, in parts of the Mali Ston bay — triggering shock and alarm among the breeders.

The traditional oyster-tasting feast in March has been canceled and fears are mounting of huge financial losses to the local community that harvests about 3 million oysters each year. Experts are pointing their fingers at the outdated sewage system in the area that has seen a rise in the numbers of tourists flocking to Croatia’s stunning Adriatic coast.

“I am really sorry but people themselves are to blame that something like this happened,” explained Vlado Onofri from the Institute for Marine and Coastal Research in nearby Dubrovnik. “It’s something that has to be solved in the future.”

While some stomach bugs can be eliminated with cooking, norovirus survives at relatively high temperatures. “The problem with oysters is that they are eaten raw,” Onofri said. Stunned locals pointed out their oysters are famous for high quality — a 1936 award from a London international exhibition still hangs on the wall in Svetan Pejic’s La Koruna restaurant in Mali Ston.

“Our oyster here is really a special oyster … and this is the only place (in the world) where it can be found,” he insisted. “Everyone wants to take our oysters and try to breed them elsewhere.” Navigating the oyster fields in their small boats, the farmers proudly show visitors rows and rows of oyster-filled underwater farm beds spreading through the bay.

Top municipal official Vedran Antunica questioned the assumption that the local sewage system was to blame for the outbreak. “Viruses are everywhere, now as we speak, the air is full of viruses,” Antunica said. “We had the same sewage system in the past, so why wasn’t it (norovirus) recorded? What has changed?”

Mass tourism threatens Croatia’s ‘Game of Thrones’ town

September 21, 2018

DUBROVNIK, Croatia (AP) — Marc van Bloemen has lived in the old town of Dubrovnik, a Croatian citadel widely praised as the jewel of the Adriatic, for decades, since he was a child. He says it used to be a privilege. Now it’s a nightmare.

Crowds of tourists clog the entrances to the ancient walled city, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, as huge cruise ships unload thousands more daily. People bump into each other on the famous limestone-paved Stradun, the pedestrian street lined with medieval churches and palaces, as fans of the popular TV series “Game of Thrones” search for the locations where it was filmed.

Dubrovnik is a prime example of the effects of mass tourism, a global phenomenon in which the increase in people travelling means standout cites — particularly small ones — get overwhelmed by crowds. As the numbers of visitors keeps rising, local authorities are looking for ways to keep the throngs from killing off the town’s charm.

“It’s beyond belief, it’s like living in the middle of Disneyland,” says van Bloemen from his house overlooking the bustling Old Harbor in the shadows of the stone city walls. On a typical day there are about eight cruise ships visiting this town of 2,500 people, each dumping some 2,000 tourists into the streets. He recalls one day when 13 ships anchored here.

“We feel sorry for ourselves, but also for them (the tourists) because they can’t feel the town anymore because they are knocking into other tourists,” he said. “It’s chaos, the whole thing is chaos.”

The problem is hurting Dubrovnik’s reputation abroad. UNESCO warned last year that the city’s world heritage title was at risk because of the surge in tourist numbers. The popular Discoverer travel blog recently wrote that a visit to the historic town “is a highlight of any Croatian vacation, but the crowds that pack its narrow streets and passageways don’t make for a quality visitor experience.”

It said that the extra attention the city gets from being a filming location for “Game of Thrones” combines with the cruise ship arrivals to create “a problem of epic proportions.” It advises travelers to visit other quaint old towns nearby: “Instead of trying to be one of the lucky ones who gets a ticket to Dubrovnik’s sites, try the delightful town of Ohrid in nearby Macedonia.”

In 2017, local authorities announced a “Respect the City” plan that limits the number of tourists from cruise ships to a maximum of 4,000 at any one time during the day. The plan still has to be implemented, however.

“We are aware of the crowds,” said Romana Vlasic, the head of the town’s tourist board. But while on the one hand she pledged to curb the number of visitors, Vlasic noted with some satisfaction that this season in Dubrovnik “is really good with a slight increase in numbers.” The success of the Croatian national soccer team at this summer’s World Cup, where it reached the final, helped bring new tourists new tourists.

Vlasic said that over 800,000 tourists visited Dubrovnik since the start of the year, a 6 percent increase from the same period last year. Overnight stays were up 4 percent to 3 million. The cruise ships pay the city harbor docking fees, but the local businesses get very little money from the visitors, who have all-inclusive packages on board the ship and spend very little on local restaurants or shops

Krunoslav Djuricic, who plays his electric guitar at Pile, one of the two main entrances of Dubrovnik’s walled city, sees the crowds pass by him all day and believes that “mass tourism might not be what we really need.”

The tourists disembarking from the cruise ships have only a few hours to visit the city, meaning they often rush around to see the sites and take selfies to post to social media. “We have crowds of people who are simply running,” Djuricic says. “Where are these people running to?”

Darko Bandic contributed to this report.

Croats gather in Austria for controversial commemoration

May 12, 2018

BLEIBURG, Austria (AP) — Thousands of Croatian far-right supporters gathered in a field in southern Austria on Saturday to commemorate the massacre of pro-Nazi Croats by victorious communists at the end of World War II.

The controversial annual event was held amid a surge of far-right sentiment in Croatia, the European Union’s newest member. For Croatian nationalists, the Bleiburg site symbolizes their suffering under communism in Yugoslavia before they fought a war for independence in the 1990s.

Tens of thousands of Croatians, mostly pro-fascist soldiers known as Ustashas, fled to Bleiburg in May 1945 amid a Yugoslav army offensive, only to be turned back from Austria by the British military and into the hands of revengeful anti-fascists. Thousands were killed and buried in mass graves in and around Bleiburg.

The Croatian Ustasha regime sent tens of thousands of Serbs, Jews, Gypsies and Croatian anti-fascists to death camps during the war. Top Croatian officials attended Saturday’s gathering Saturday on a vast field surrounded by mountains. Croatian Catholic Church clergy held a Mass for the killed Croats.

“Awful crimes have been committed in the Bleiburg field,” Croatian parliament speaker Gordan Jandrokovic said. “Today we are paying our respect to the victims, civilians as well as soldiers.” Croatia’s center-right government has been accused of turning a blind eye to the rising extremism and downplaying the crimes of the Ustasha regime. The policies have triggered protests from Croatia’s minority Jewish and Serb communities.

Top Nazi hunter Efraim Zuroff said he tried to persuade Austria’s conservative government to ban the rally, but without success. “It’s absolutely outrageous that Austrian authorities allow an event like this to happen,” Zuroff told The Associated Press by phone from Jerusalem. “In Austria, you are not allowed to brandish Nazi symbols, but they allow Ustasha symbols.”

For the first time since the first massive commemoration was held in the 1990s, Austrian authorities on Saturday banned the Ustasha insignia to be worn at the event. Despite the ban, some participants brandished T-shirts bearing the Ustasha wartime call: “For the Homeland, ready!”

“The main culprit of the tragedy of those people was the British Army because they tricked the Croatian soldiers to disarm before they were handed over to (Yugoslav Communist leader Josip Broz) Tito,” said Branko Mandic, one of the mourners.

A small anti-Fascist rally was held in the town of Bleiburg, with protesters displaying banners reading “Nazis Out!” Croatian officials repeatedly have denied backing policies that run counter to European Union standards, saying they are focused on major economic and social reforms and not the revival of the far-right sentiments.

Leaders of Romania, Croatia want a one-speed Europe

October 02, 2017

BUCHAREST, Romania (AP) — The presidents of Romania and Croatia have called for an end to the differences between older and newer European Union members. Some newer EU members are frustrated they do not enjoy the same benefits as older EU members. Many East European members do not use the euro.

Klaus Iohannis said he and Croatian President Kolinda Gabar-Kitarovic agreed Monday on “an elimination of differences between different states (which is) very important,” Iohannis said. Grabar-Kitarovic said she opposed “a two-speed Europe,” after talks with Iohannis. She said Romania and neighbor Bulgaria, both EU members, deserve to be members of the visa-free Schengen travel zone.

She also said Romania and Bulgaria, members since 2007, should no longer be subjected to a process that monitors whether they implement reforms.

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