Tue, Feb 17, 2015 - Page 6 News List

Croatian president vows renewal


Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic, left, receives the president’s official sash from Constitutional Court of Croatia President Jasna Omejec during the swearing-in ceremony in central Zagreb on Sunday.

Photo: AFP

New Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic pledged to help revitalize the country’s ailing economy as she was sworn in as its first female president on Sunday.

The 46-year-old conservative former minister of foreign and NATO official narrowly defeated her left-wing predecessor, former Croatian President Ivo Josipovic, in an election run-off last month.

“I will be a top economic diplomat of our country,” she said in her inaugural speech, vowing to do her utmost “to make Croatia a wealthy nation.”

“[After] almost two years of [EU] membership, I would like us all to eventually start to live the life of a European Union member,” Grabar-Kitarovic said at the open-air ceremony in the old quarter of Zagreb.

Hopes that EU membership would boost the economy of the small Adriatic nation with a population of 4.2 million have faded.

Croatia’s economy, hit by a six-year recession, remains among the weakest in the 28-nation bloc. Unemployment is almost 20 percent, and the government forecasts a meager 0.5 percent growth this year.

The ceremony was attended by hundreds of Croatians, top local officials, leaders of several regional nations, and — notably — Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic.

His presence hinted at an easing of tensions between the former foes. Relations between Belgrade and Zagreb have gradually improved since Croatia’s 1990s independence war, during which it fought against Belgrade-backed rebel Serbs.

“We talked about all our issues ... we will resolve them,” Vucic told reporters after meeting the new president.

Grabar-Kitarovic, a leading member of the main opposition HDZ party until becoming president, called for national unity to overcome the economic crisis.

“We are facing a moment that requires a broad national consensus over key issues. There is neither space nor time for divisions,” she said.

Grabar-Kitarovic added that Croatia would continue to support bids by other Balkan nations to join the EU and NATO, as that was in the country’s “strategic interest.”

“I want countries of southeastern Europe to become members of the European family and for us to offer them a hand of cooperation,” she said.

Grabar-Kitarovic is the fourth person to hold the largely ceremonial role in the former Yugoslav republic since its independence in 1991.

She served as European affairs and foreign minister from 2003 to 2008, and then as Croatia’s ambassador to the US until 2011, when she was named NATO assistant secretary-general.

Her election was seen as a major boost for HDZ ahead of parliamentary elections due late this year, and in which the party is likely to make significant gains.

The current center-left rulers face major public discontent, largely over their failure to revive the economy.

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