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Croatia: Mesic To Face Budisa In Presidential Runoff

Zagreb, 25 January 2000 (RFE/RL) - Centrist candidate Stipe Mesic and Social Liberal leader Drazen Budisa will compete in Croatia's presidential runoff vote on February 7. The Croatian Electoral Commission said that with 97 percent of preliminary results counted, neither candidate had received an absolute majority in yesterday's poll. It said Mesic, representing a four-party coalition, won 41 percent of the votes while Budisa had 28 percent. Mate Granic, the candidate of the former ruling Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ), won 21 percent while the remaining six candidates shared the rest of the votes. The commission said turnout was 64 percent.

The presidential election was called to choose a successor to Franjo Tudjman, who died last month. Yesterday's vote came three weeks after a landmark parliamentary ballot that saw center-left opposition parties hand Tudjman's hardline HDZ party a devastating defeat to win power for the first time.

Both Mesic and Budisa have vowed to turn their backs on Tudjman's nationalist policies and fight to end Croatia's international isolation. Centrist candidate Stipe Mesic says the country is opening a "new page" of democracy.

Mesic, who represented a four-party coalition, made the remark early today after the results from yesterday's election were announced. He said he supports Croatia's entry into the European Union and NATO as soon as possible. He also told journalists that he was ready to make a break from Tudjman's authoritarian rule, which alienated the West.