Split, 12 February 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Croatia's pro-democracy leadership is facing its first serious threat from supporters of the former ruling elite. Nearly 100,000 war veterans and nationalist supporters of the late President Franjo Tudjman's HDZ party gathered for a rally in the town of Split yesterday.
The rally was called in support of Croatia's former General Mirko Norac -- who is charged with war crimes against Serb civilians at the town of Gospic in 1991.
The rally quickly turned into a protest against the reformist government of Prime Minister Ivica Racan. The rally's chief organizer, Mirko Chondic, criticized Racan and President Stipe Mesic. He said:
"We will not allow that communists take from us democracy and freedom. We say to Racan and Mesic: no way forward."
Ivo Sanader, of the HDZ party, demanded that Racan's government resign and call early elections. Many in the crowd signed a petition demanding early elections, as well as the suspension of Zagreb's cooperation with the United Nations war crimes tribunal at The Hague.
Racan said the demands are a direct attack on his government. He accused the HDZ party of supporting "warmongering policies" that threaten Croatian democracy.