THE republic of Croatia said Wednesday it was starting to form its own army and took another step toward secession from Yugoslavia as the country's crisis deepened. The Croatian official gazette published a declaration by Croatian President Franjo Tudjman that the republic would not stay in Yugoslavia in its current form, reaffirming his resolve to secede unless the country becomes a looser alliance.
``The republic of Croatia will not remain in a federal Yugoslav state,'' said the proclamation, which is not legally binding but will gather weight as a reaffirmation of policy when it is approved shortly by the Croatian parliament.
The proclamation said Croatia may try to create a looser alliance, in which the Yugoslav republics would become sovereign states.
Serbia, the biggest republic, fiercely opposes such a move and wants to keep a centrally ruled federation.
Croatian Defense Minister Martin Spegelj said the republic's recently founded national guard had swollen to more than 22,000 men and was the seed of a future army, a move sure to anger the Yugoslav Army.
In another blow to unity, Croatia, Slovenia, and Macedonia boycotted a meeting of the collective presidency, thereby derailing the latest efforts to end a crisis that has left the country without a head of state for two weeks.
Five members of the eight-man presidency met in Belgrade to try to select a president but agreed they should not take any decisions in the absence of the three other members.
Yugoslavia, a country of 23.5 million people divided into six republics and two provinces, has had no president since Serbia and its allies blocked the appointment of Croatia's Stipe Mesic on May 15, saying he would break up the country.
The northwestern republics of Croatia and Slovenia are the most prosperous regions in Yugoslavia. They have angered federal authorities and Serbia by seeking independence since ending 45 years of Communist rule last year.
Sofia OKs constitution
The Bulgarian parliament has approved a new draft constitution on its first reading, clearing the way for its adoption in place of the former communist constitution. The text was approved by a vote of 276 to 1 with four abstentions.
The proposed constitution guarantees political pluralism, the separation of powers, and freedom of opinion and religion.
In addition, the text stipulates that ``private property is inviolable'' and that the economy is to be based on ``free initiative and market forces.''
The proposed text will be submitted to two additional votes, each requiring a two-thirds vote, before being formally adopted at a ceremony scheduled for July 17.
Forty-eight hard-line anticommunist deputies from the opposition Union of Democratic Forces, who have been boycotting parliament, were absent from the vote. They have called for the dissolution of the legislature, which is controlled by the former communist Bulgarian Socialist Party, and free elections before the constitution is adopted.
Bulgarians to hold referendum
Bulgaria will hold a referendum to decide whether the country should remain a republic or revert to a monarchy - an option likely to find little backing.
``We are all for a republic, but as democrats we have to give those who support the monarchy a possibility to express their opinion,'' said Social Democratic Party leader Petar Dertliev, who introduced the motion in parliament.
Bulgaria voted in 1946 in a referendum, strongly manipulated by the Communists, to end the monarchy and declare a republic.
Nostalgia for the royal family headed by exiled ex-king Simeon still exists, mainly among the elderly, but there does not appear to be great support for the monarchy's return.
Parliament also agreed to dissolve itself in July and hold elections in September.