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Croatia’s first woman PM set to take office

Zagreb — Croatia’s parliament met on Monday to approve a cabinet headed by a journalist-turned-politician set to become the country’s first woman prime minister with the Balkan state mired in economic crisis.

Jadranka Kosor is succeeding Ivo Sanader who, after holding Croatia’s most powerful political position for the past six years, shocked the nation by resigning last week, pushing the country into political turmoil.

The 56-year-old will be taking up the mantle amid deep economic woes that have the country facing its worst crisis since its war of independence from the former communist Yugoslavia in the early 1990s.

Her appointment is seen as controversial, but she has pledged to tackle Croatia’s economic struggles and its stalled bid to become the European Union’s 28th member by 2011.

"I will lead both the government and the (HDZ) party with a strong female hand," Kosor said at a weekend convention of her Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ).

Critics warn that Kosor, who was elected at the weekend as the first female head of the HDZ since the party was founded two decades ago, lacks the experience and power to deal with the crises. Observers describe her as "omnipresent but invisible" protégé of Sanader.

"Recovery of the economy is a central plank in the programme for the next period but also continuation of Croatia’s EU talks," she told lawmakers.

Croatia’s economy shrank 6.7 percent in the past year, first quarter figures showed, the sharpest fall in gross domestic product since 2000. The central bank forecasts that GDP will contract by four percent in 2009.

"I want to tell to our European friends that we did our part, we are doing our job, an the burden of historic responsibility (to solve the issue) is at this moment lying on them."

Kosor said she was convinced that EU talks would eventually be unblocked.

"Croatia will become a full-fledged member of the European family … despite historical shortsightedness of our northern neighbours," she said in a reference to Slovenia.

The EU accession talks have been blocked by Slovenia due to a long-standing border row between the two former Yugoslav republics.

Sanader did not give clear reasons for why he quit but repeatedly hinted it was prompted partly due to frustration with Croatia’s stalled EU bid.

At the end of her speech Kosor appealed to women MPs, in a still traditional patriarchal society, to support her.

"Women should be given a chance where there is real power and money. This is a right opportunity for that," she stressed.

Kosor, a Sanader protégé who has been deputy prime minister since 2003, is a law graduate from Zagreb University but made her career in journalism, hosting a radio show for refugees during the 1991-1995 war in the Balkans.

Her rise within the HDZ began at the end of the conflict, and she held portfolios in government dealing with war veterans and family issues.

The new government coalition differs only slightly from the previous one, bringing in only four new names.

Lajla Veselica/AFP/Expatica