Prominent journalist's murder roils Croatia

Croatian leaders link the car bomb that killed Ivo Pukanic to criminal underworld. It's the latest in a string of attacks that may hinder Croatia's European Union bid.

Croatia's president and prime minister promised a crackdown on organized crime Thursday in response to the murder of one of Croatia's most prominent journalists.

The attack appears to be the latest in a wave of such actions that have occurred in Zagreb this year.

The Times of London reports that Ivo Pukanic, publisher of the Nacional weekly newspaper, was killed Thursday evening in a car bomb explosion in Zagreb, along with Niko Franic, Nacional's marketing manager. Croatia's leaders condemned the murders as acts of "terrorists" and "the mafia," and vowed to win its long power struggle with organized crime.

"The criminal underworld has confronted the country with an unprecedented challenge," said Stjepan Mesic, the Croatian President, summoning an emergency meeting of [Croatia's] National Security Council.
"This is the moment when our society must stand as one because the question we are facing is: us, the rule of law, or them, the criminals, the terrorists and the mafia," he added. ...
Hours after [Pukanic's] death, the Prime Minister, Ivo Sanader, pledged to confront the criminal gangs believed to be behind the murders. "I will not allow for Croatia to become Beirut. All of us in Croatia will stand up against this," he declared.
"This is the final showdown and the State will emerge as the victor. Our best people are working on this," Mr Sanader added, announcing a package of emergency laws that will give authorities greater powers to tackle organised crime.

The Times adds that two other Nacional employees were injured in the blast, which occurred in the newspaper's parking lot.

Agence France-Presse (AFP) writes that Mr. Pukanic was "one of Croatia's most controversial journalists" and was best known in Croatia for a 2003 interview with Croatian general Ante Gotovina, who at the time was fleeing a war crimes indictment issued by The Hague. Pukanic was also accused of having ties to Croatia's organized crime, which the Croatian Journalists' Association took to task for his murder.

The Croatian Journalists' Association (HND) voiced outrage at the murder and called on the authorities to "immediately declare a war on criminals and murderers."
"What has occurred is horrible and it shows that crime has severely expanded in Croatia," the HND said in a statement.

Croatian news website reports that Pukanic had been allegedly been the target of organized crime before. Pukanic was reportedly attacked by a gun-wielding assailant in April, though he fended off his attacker with his own gun. writes that critics accused Pukanic of staging the attack, but Pukanic denied the rumors.

Reuters reports that Pukanic's murder is part of a string of violent attacks in Croatia, which has been struggling to deal with criminal syndicates.

"Unfortunately, this means that the state has lost this round of crackdown on crime. This is big blow to Croatia's political system, it shows the system's inefficiency in fighting crime," said Davor Butkovic, an editor of wide-selling Jutarnji List daily. ...
Earlier this month, the daughter of a well-known lawyer was shot twice in the head in the stairway of the building where she lived, not far from the Zagreb police headquarters.
Also this year, a prominent crime reporter was beaten up on the street, a member of the Zagreb city administration was beaten up with baseball bats and the chief executive of a major construction firm was assaulted with iron bars in September.

The Daily Telegraph notes that Croatia's problems with organized crime began in the 1990s, during the dissolution of Yugoslavia. According to analysts, Croatia's admission to the European Union, scheduled for 2012, could be hindered by the nation's continuing crime problem, adds the Telegraph. AFP reported earlier this month that the EU's concerns about Croatia stem largely from experiences with Romania and Bulgaria, both recent additions to the Union. Both nations continue to struggle with corruption and crime, and the EU does not wish a repeat in Croatia.

"It is clear that EU will not tolerate a situation similar to that in Bulgaria, with serious disfunctioning in the judiciary and fight against organized crime," said a diplomatic source on condition of anonymity.
"Without strong measures, and notably without concrete results, Zagreb risks to see the pace of the negotiations slowing down," the diplomat added.
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