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Car Bomb In Croatia Kills Two Journalists

ZAGREB (Reuters) -- A car bomb killed two journalists in central Zagreb on October 23 in the latest of a series of violent incidents that have hit the capital this year.

President Stjepan Mesic said the blast, which killed "Nacional" weekly editor Ivo Pukanic, 47, and a "Nacional" manager, meant "terrorism has become a fact on the streets of our capital."

Pukanic, the owner of "Nacional," which often exposed corruption and human rights abuses, earlier this year reported an assassination attempt against him.

"The state is faced with an unprecedented challenge from the criminal circles. Now it is them or us...rule of law and safety of citizens against criminals, terrorists and mafia," Mesic said in a statement, after calling an urgent session of the National Security Council for October 24.

A visibly shaken Prime Minister Ivo Sanader told a news conference: "I shall not allow Croatia to become Beirut. This is no longer merely a fight against organised crime. This is something all of us in Croatia will rise up against."

Sanader sacked the interior and justice ministers earlier this month and announced a set of tough "antimafia" laws as part of a bid to tackle organized crime, following a string of unsolved beatings and murders in Zagreb.

The bomb exploded in front of the "Nacional" building in central Zagreb and state television showed footage of the wrecked car, under which the bomb was apparently planted.

The Zagreb police, who declined to identify the two victims, sealed off the city center while firemen rushed to the scene to extinguish the resulting car fire.

Fighting organized crime and corruption is one of the key requirements Zagreb has to meet if it wants to complete European Union accession talks next year, but analysts said the latest incident did not bode well.

Government Loses Round

"Unfortunately, this means that the state has lost this round of crackdown on crime. This is big blow to Croatia's political system, it shows the system's inefficiency in fighting crime," said Davor Butkovic, an editor of the popular "Jutarnji list" daily.

He told the police an assailant had fired a gun at him from close range while he was walking in the street, missing him by inches. A police investigation has proved inconclusive and police revoked his protection two months ago.

Earlier this month, the daughter of a well-known lawyer was shot twice in the head in the stairway of the building where she lived, not far from the Zagreb police headquarters.

Also this year, a prominent crime reporter was beaten up on the street, a member of the Zagreb city administration was beaten up with baseball bats, and the chief executive of a major construction firm was assaulted with iron bars in September.

Local media have urged a tough crackdown on organized crime, calling for a large-scale police action similar to a crackdown that neighbouring Serbia launched against criminal gangs after its prime minister, Zoran Djindjic, was assassinated in 2003.