YU government cool on Croatian election result

BELGRADE, Jan 4, 2000 -- (Reuters) The Yugoslav government responded coolly on Tuesday to the outcome of Croatia's parliamentary election that spelled the end of almost a decade of rule by the nationalist HDZ.

"It's an expected defeat, it's nothing new," Goran Matic, information secretary of the Yugoslav Federation now made up of just Serbia and Montenegro, told Reuters after late President Franjo Tudjman's party conceded defeat to its center-left foes.

Ivica Racan, head of Croatia's main opposition bloc, said its lead showed people wanted change and pledged to win back support from Western governments that shunned the ex-Yugoslav republic in protest at Tudjman's autocratic rule.

The veteran leader died last month and presidential elections are scheduled for January 24.

Like Yugoslavia, Croatia was ostracized by the West over its role in the 1992-5 Bosnian conflict. Since last year's conflict with NATO over Kosovo, the Belgrade government has been punished further and is now almost totally isolated by the West.

Opposition parties are trying to force President Slobodan Milosevic to step down and have called for early elections.

Matic said he was not concerned by the victory in neighboring Croatia of an opposition party that was pro-Western, like his government's own critics in Belgrade.

"Why should it concern us? Those are Croatian elections," he said.

Racan promised to tackle economic hardship in Croatia by cutting the budget and offering tax breaks to investors.

Matic, whose government says it can stave off economic crisis without the help of the West, said it was early days "Each political party makes promises. Let's see how they fulfil them."

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