Signs of rift in Croatia's new government

ZAGREB, Apr 1, 2000 -- (Reuters) Croatia's president and prime minister found themselves on the opposite sides of an argument on Friday, as their simmering conflict over presidential powers blew out in public.

President Stipe Mesic and Prime Minister Ivica Racan held separate news conferences during which they angrily discussed control of the army and intelligence community, the first hard evidence of a widening political rift since they took over power from the nationalist HDZ regime last month.

Mesic told reporters he wanted to remain the supreme commander of the armed forces, and keep the right to name heads of secret services and influence Croatia's foreign policy by appointing its ambassadors abroad.

"We promised voters to slash presidential powers, nobody said anything about their abolition," he said angrily, referring to a government document promising reforms within the secret service and the military, which apparently minimized the president's role.

"Some people would like to strip the president of all his powers, reducing him to a plant," Mesic said. He also complained that he was systematically kept out of the loop on important decisions.

Racan met with the press a couple of hours after Mesic. He declined to discuss details of the government document, which has not been made public, but said it expressed the government's view of how to revamp Croatia's intelligence community.

"I stand firmly behind a parliamentary democracy and do not support equal distribution of power between the president, parliament and government because that would mean a semi-presidential or a semi-parliamentary system," Racan said.

"That is not what the electorate voted for."

In what could be a portent of battles to come, Mesic said that two expert teams already working on constitutional changes, one of which was formed by him and the other by Racan, would complete their respective proposals in a few days and start ironing out their differences.

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