In Yugoslavia, Croatians Approve Independence

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.

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.

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