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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 _ are hoping to return to power in the vote.
Although Racan's six-party coalition government had been hailed as a clear break from Tudjman's regime, it did not efficiently handle growing social problems, unemployment and economic difficulties.
Racan also appeared to struggle to keep a lid on factional disputes and appeared indecisive in dealing with Western demands to hand over war crimes suspects to the U.N. tribunal and with extremists at home who opposed prosecution of Croats.
Tudjman's reformed party, led by current Prime Minister Ivo Sanader, returned to power in 2003.
Racan's supporters praise him for leading efforts to bring democracy to Croatia. Mild-mannered and modest, he loved to play tennis and listen to U2, and acknowledged smoking pot as a student.
Racan was born in 1944 in a Nazi labor camp in Ebersbach, Germany, where his father died.
He started his political climb in former communist-run Yugoslavia during the 1980s, eventually becoming the leader of the Croatian Communist party in 1989.
A year later, he became a key player in the federation's demise by walking out of its annual congress to protest efforts by Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic to crack down on independence movements in ex-Yugoslav republics, which eventually led to war.
Under his leadership, the Communist Party in Croatia agreed that new political parties could be formed _ introducing the multi-party system in Croatia and leading to the first free multiparty elections in Croatia in 1990.
Although his reformed communists lost in the polls, he enabled the peaceful handover of power to the Croatian Democratic Union, then a nationalist party. A photograph of him shaking hands with Tudjman remains a symbol of the start of democracy in Croatia.
Racan is survived by his third wife, Dijana Plestina, and two sons from his first marriage.
Funeral arrangements were yet to be made.
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Associated Press writer Snjezana Vukic contributed to this report.


Updated : 2021-04-14 00:23 GMT+08:00