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Italian Leader Visits Croatia

February 17, 2000

ZAGREB, Croatia (AP) _ Italy’s prime minister expressed support Thursday for the new Croatian government and its integration into the European mainstream after almost a decade of isolation.

``We completely support the new course of Croatia toward the European Union and NATO, and generally, into the international community,″ said Premier Massimo D’Alema, who was in Croatia on a one-day visit.

The Italian premier said he wanted to be the first head of government to arrive in the capital of Zagreb and extend congratulations to the new pro-Western leadership and his counterpart, Ivica Racan.

``We are aware that the doors (to European integration) have been flung open and that the ball is now in our court,″ said Racan, who returned Wednesday from a visit with senior officials at the EU and NATO headquarters.

A former Yugoslav republic, Croatia is emerging from almost a decade of isolation brought about by hard-line policies of the late authoritarian President Franjo Tudjman and his nationalist party.

Tudjman held media and minority rights in scant regard and was often criticized by foreign powers for his government’s lack of cooperation with an international war crimes tribunal and the peace process in Bosnia.

Racan’s left-of-center coalition, which has promised to chart a new path, ousted Tudjman’s party in January parliamentary elections.

Italy is one of Croatia’s main trading partners, and the two countries have particularly good ties in banking, oil and tourism.

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