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Thousands at anti-government rally in Croatia allege high-level corruption and demand an election

ZAGREB, Croatia — Thousands of people rallied in Croatia’s capital on Saturday, accusing the ruling center-right party of corruption and demanding that this year’s parliamentary election be held as soon as possible.

The gathering in Zagreb was organized by 11 center and left-leaning opposition parties, with political tensions in the European Union member nation rising.

Croatia is set to hold both parliamentary and presidential elections in 2024, as well as those for the European Parliament in early June. The dates for the domestic votes have not been determined yet.

The opposition parties want the parliamentary vote held immediately. They have lodged a formal demand to dissolve Croatia’s parliament amid a row over the election of the country’s new state attorney.

Powerful Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic has defended the recent appointment of former judge Ivan Turudic to the post despite reports of his communication with people involved in corruption.

Plenkovic and his nationalist Croatian Democratic Union have ruled Croatia for years. The country joined the EU in 2013, following an era of wars and crisis, and last year Croatia joined Europe’s visa-free travel zone and single currency market.

Government opponents at Saturday’s rally — the biggest against Plenkovic in years — waved flags and posters showing a clenched first and reading “It’s enough!” The crowd booed and jeered at the mention of the prime minister and his party, shouting “go!” and “elections now!”

Davorko Vidovic, of the Social democratic party, opened his speech by honouring Alexei Navalny, the main Russia’s opposition leader, who died Friday in a remote prison.

Vidovic then accused Plenkovic of curbing democratic freedoms in Croatia.

“Our power is in our pens, in our hands,” he said referring to the upcoming elections. “Our land and our people deserve the best decision. We must not allow them to take us into an autocracy.”

Sandra Bencic, from the Mozemo, or We Can, group that holds municipal power in Zagreb, evoked a constant exodus from Croatia of young people toward richer EU nations. She urged the people to “go to the polling stations” instead.

“Let those go who should go! You are not the ones who should leave,” she said.

Croatia, a nation of some 3.8 million people, remains one of the poorest economies in the EU, surviving largely on tourism along the country’s beautiful Adriatic Sea coast line that attracts millions of visitors every year.

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