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In Yugoslavia, Croatians Approve Independence

By Reuters / May 21, 1991



YUGOSLAVIA'S rebel republic of Croatia voted overwhelmingly for independence in a referendum held at the height of a five-day crisis which has left the country without a head of state. With more than 80 percent of the votes from Sunday's poll counted, returns showed a turnout of more than 85 percent, according to provisional results.

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More than 94 percent of the votes counted were in favor of the policy of the ruling right-wing Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ), which advocates an independent Croatian state that could enter into a loose alliance with other Yugoslav republics.

"We can rely on these results in negotiations with the other Yugoslav republics and show the world that this is not just the will of the HDZ, or my personal program, but what the people in my republic want," Croatian President Franjo Tudjman said earlier Sunday.

Croatian authorities said the results came as no surprise and that the referendum was a formality, as independence fervor had been rising since the HDZ ousted communists in free elections last year. Croatia was the second Yugoslav republic to vote for independence during a crisis that has pushed Yugoslavia to the brink of civil war. Slovenia held a similar referendum in December and has said it would secede by the end of June.

The poll, the results of which are not directly binding, was the climax of an independence drive that has set Croatia at odds with the rival Serbian republic. At least 19 people have been killed in clashes between Croatian police and Serbs in the last month. The federal Army has been deployed in parts of Croatia to keep the peace.

The 600,000-strong Serbian minority in Croatia has rebelled against the republic's secessionist moves and boycotted Sunday's referendum. They voted May 12 to stay in Yugoslavia and join the republic of Serbia.

Poland's Walesa visits Israel

Lech Walesa arrived in Israel yesterday on the first visit by a Polish president to the Jewish state. The former Solidarity union leader, dogged by suspicions of anti-Semitism in Poland, will try to seal a reconciliation process between the two countries during his four-day visit. The Solidarity movement in 1989 overthrew the Communist government that broke ties with Israel in 1967.

The Solidarity-led administration restored relations with Israel last year and has consistently sought to put them on a warmer footing. The Polish Jewish community is Israel's third-largest after Moroccan and Russian Jews.

Polish parliament rejects anti-abortion bill

The Polish parliament stopped a controversial church-backed anti-abortion bill in its tracks Friday and urged the government instead to tighten up the country's liberal abortion regulations.

After months of heated disputes over the bill, which would have banned abortions and jailed doctors performing them for up to two years, the Sejm (lower house) approved a resolution introduced by Solidarity deputies specifically to block it.

The vote was a rebuff to Poland's powerful Roman Catholic bishops two weeks before Polish-born Pope John Paul II makes his first visit to his homeland since it launched itself on the road to democracy nearly two years ago.

Soviets approve law to allow free travel

The Soviet parliament yesterday finally approved in principle a landmark law enshrining the right of most Soviet citizens to travel abroad. Deputies in the Supreme Soviet, or national parliament, voted by 320 to 37 with 32 abstentions to back the law, seen in the West as a barometer of Soviet compliance with international human rights obligations.

The bill was approved after a determined rear-guard action by conservative deputies, who objected to what they said would be the huge costs involved. The bill, in preparation for two years, had failed to secure approval three times last week.

After the vote, deputies started debating details of the law's 18 articles with a view to setting a timetable for its implementation.