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Nick Thorpe reports for BBC News
"The turnout was quite high"
 real 28k

Tuesday, 25 January, 2000, 10:15 GMT
Croats vote for change

Stipe Mesic Stipe Mesic cheers initial results at his headquarters

The people of Croatia have voted for change in presidential elections - rejecting the policies of the late Franjo Tudjman, who ruled Croatia since independence in 1991.

With 96.6% of the ballots counted from Monday's election, two candidates from Croatia's new centre-left parliamentary majority were set to contest a run-off vote for the presidency.

Centrist candidate Stipe Mesic led with 41.6% of the vote, followed by liberal leader Drazen Budisa with 28%.

As neither received the 50% required for outright victory, the two will now go forward for a run-off on 7 February.

Outgoing Foreign Minister Mate Granic trailed in third place with 21.7% of the vote.

The BBC's Nick Thorpe in Zagreb says these results will be seen as a devastating rejection of the policies of President Franjo Tudjman, who died in December.

Lower turnout

Voter turnout was 64% - lower than in parliamentary elections earlier this month.

Analysts attributed this largely to bad weather.

The state news agency Hina reported that six out of some 7,000 polling stations in the country failed to open on time due to blizzards and wind.

Some 4 million people were eligible to vote in Croatia and abroad.

The issues

The two leading candidates have both pledged to direct the country into Western-oriented institutions like the European Union and NATO.

They have also promised to reduce the powers of the presidency and to cooperate with the War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague.

Mr Mesic, a member of a small centrist party, appealed to many voters with his down-to-earth image and quick wit, in contrast to Mr Tudjman's regal presidential style.

Voting papers Overall turnout was down largely due to bad weather

He espoused a clean break from Mr Tudjman's authoritarianism, which had left the country internationally isolated and in economic recession.

He appeared confident of eventual victory, saying: "It's completely certain that I will win in the runoff. We are continuing our campaign. We are heading toward victory."

Contenders' campaigns
Mate Granic: Distanced himself from Tudjman era
Stipe Mesic: Wants ceremonial presidency
Drazen Budisa: Hopes to limit presidential powers

Mr Budisa was the candidate of the parties who were victorious in parliamentary elections earlier this month, when Croats ousted Tudjman's Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) by a landslide.

He wants the president to have less power, but to keep control of foreign policy and the army.

Western leaders welcomed the parliamentary victory of the centre-left coalition, which has pledged to introduce economic and democratic reforms and improve ties with the West.

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See also:
11 Dec 99 |  Europe
Tears for Croatian president
11 Dec 99 |  Europe
Analysis: Contemplating life without Tudjman

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