Mesic wins Croatian presidential poll

ZAGREB, Feb 8, 2000 -- (Reuters) Centrist Stipe Mesic will succeed the late Franjo Tudjman as Croatia's next president after securing a convincing win in a second round runoff election, the state electoral commission said on Tuesday.

The commission said that after 99.36 percent of the vote from Monday's poll had been counted, 65-year old Mesic had taken an unassailable lead with 56.21 percent of ballots cast against 43.79 percent for his sole rival Drazen Budisa.

Mesic, who was the last president of the former Yugoslavia before Croatian independence in 1991, has vowed to curb the immense presidential powers enjoyed by Tudjman and move rapidly to improve the small Balkan country's international ties.

"We face a big task...We want to fulfil our strategic goals as soon as possible to enter the European Union and NATO," Mesic told supporters immediately after the official election results were announced.

Monday's ballot capped an extraordinary two months for Croatia, in which first Tudjman died and then his Croatian Democratic Union party (HDZ) was swept from office in a general election on January 3.

Mesic, whose down-to-earth style struck a chord in a nation tired of Tudjman's aloof presidential demeanor, was jailed for two years in 1972 by the communists in the former Yugoslavia for promoting Croatian nationalism. He has since held just about every political office in the country.

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