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Croatian former Prime Minister Ivica Racan dies at 63

Croatian former Prime Minister Ivica Racan dies at 63

Croatia's former Prime Minister Ivica Racan, a former communist leader who led the country's first staunchly pro-Western government in 2000-2003 died Sunday, his party said. He was 63.
Racan died at 3:05 a.m. (0105 GMT) in a Zagreb clinic as a result of the kidney cancer he was diagnosed with in February, party spokeswoman Gordana Grbic told The Associated Press.
Racan, who recently stepped down as the leader of Croatia's strongest opposition party, the Social Democrats, had a cancerous kidney removed in mid-February. Doctors said this month that the cancer had spread to Racan's brain and he had been in a critical condition for the past two weeks.
Racan had led a governing coalition that was fully committed to making Croatia a part of mainstream Europe after a decade of the authoritarian and nationalist rule of late President Franjo Tudjman.
During Racan's premiership, Croatia signed a pre-membership agreement with the European Union _ a stepping stone for eventual membership. The country formally opened membership negotiations in October 2006.
Although out of office for several years, Racan remained among the most popular politicians in Croatia.
His death, just months before November parliamentary elections, is a blow for the Social Democrats, which he transformed from a communist to a Western-style center-left group.
Social Democrats _ ranked just behind the ruling conservative Croatian Democratic Union in most polls _ were hoping to return to power in the vote.