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Almost half of Croats against NATO entry -survey

Written by: Staff
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ZAGREB, Oct 26 (Reuters) Only one-third of Croats favour joining the NATO military alliance while almost 50 per cent oppose it, a survey published today said.

The survey in the Jutarnji List daily was published after US President George W Bush publicly backed Croatia's wish to join NATO during Prime Minister Ivo Sanader visit to Washington last week.

Bush said he would urge leaders at a NATO summit in the Latvian capital, Riga, next month to back Croatia's admission in 2008.

Zagreb also won similar pledges of support from European conservatives at a meeting in Finland last week.

But the survey, conducted with 1,000 people, showed only 35.3 per cent of Croats would vote for NATO entry, while 47.4 per cent of citizens would oppose it.

In most surveys in recent years, backing for NATO entry never surpassed 40 per cent and analysts often blamed it on the government's failure to explain the benefits of membership to the country's 4.4 million people.

The government has yet to make a decision on whether to hold a referendum on joining NATO unlike with the European Union, where a referendum will take place once accession talks are wrapped up.

Croatia hopes to join the EU by 2010.

''There is no communication strategy towards citizens to explain what would be the benefits and costs of NATO membership. No Croat government has ever made such an effort,'' political analyst Andjelko Milardovic told Reuters.

''Therefore, citizens are sceptical because they don't see what the country could gain from NATO and think that EU entry alone should satisfy Croatia's ambitions. They're also wary of any military engagement of Croat forces abroad,'' he said.

A small contingent of Croatian military policemen are currently serving in NATO-led international force in Afghanistan.

REUTERS DJB SSC1436

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