June 10, 1997

Croatian opposition demands election delay

By Sandra Kalogjera

ZAGREB, Croatia - Croatia's opposition Social Liberal party called for Sunday's presidential election to be postponed by two weeks after its candidate was attacked at a campaign rally by an army officer it identified as a member of President Franjo Tudjman's elite security guard.

``The reason for this is the attempt on the life of Vlado Gotovac in Pula...when he sustained such injuries that he was thrown out of the presidential race,'' party secretary Karl Gorinsek told a news conference Tuesday.

But the government said it ``could not accept Mr. Gotovac's demand because there are no constitutional or legal grounds for it. The law on presidential elections does not foresee the possibility of setting new dates for electoral activities,'' a government statement carried by state radio said.

Gotovac suffered a concussion and neck injuries after an army officer hit him on the head with a heavy belt buckle. He was treated in a hospital and doctors said Monday he had to refrain from any activity and stay in bed.

The party asked for both other candidates, Tudjman and Zdravko Tomac of the Social Democrats, to stop campaigning until Gotovac got better. They said Gotovac should be allowed to add on days he has lost to lengthen his campaign.

``There is no legal or constitutional barrier for this to be done. The electoral committee of the Republic of Croatia should have looked into the state of the campaign and called for this themselves,'' said party official Slavko Bokvic.

The party released the findings of a doctor's examination which found that Gotovac was suffering from a recurrence of neck injuries which he sustained during his time in prison after he was jailed for supporting Croatia's pro-independence movement in the 1970s.

The Social Liberal party said if their demand was not met Gotovac would still run as a candidate in Sunday's vote and rumors of him withdrawing were absolutely false, Gorinsek said.

The man who attacked Gotovac was a captain in the Croatian army and was in uniform at the time. The Defense Ministry named him as Tomislav Brzovic, said he was drunk at the time of the attack and immediately suspended him from duty and detained him.

The Social Liberal party and the independent weekly news magazine Feral Tribune both alleged Brzovic was a member of Tudjman's security guard though this has not been confirmed by the Defense Ministry.

Gorinsek said Brzovic had been released from a military jail and taken to a civilian prison in Pula. This was an indication, he said, that Brzovic must have been dishonorably discharged from the army.

Both opposition candidates are fighting a losing battle to try to oust Tudjman, who is widely expected to win the election in the first round.

They face fawning state-run media which run at length many of the president's official engagements, ensuring he benefits from more coverage than his opponents do.

One opposition party supporting Gotovac as its candidate accused Tudjman, his party and state television of demonizing all opposition leaders and fueling the idea they were enemies of the state.