ZAGREB (AFP) — Croatia was warned Friday that its chances of European Union membership were threatened by organised crime, the day after a car bomb killed a prominent journalist and a colleague.
"I am deeply worried," about the situation in the country, Hannes Swoboda, the European parliament's rapporteur on Croatia told national radio.
"It is a shock which pushes Croatia back in its ambitions to become a member of the EU."
Swoboda was speaking the day after Ivo Pukanic, founder and owner of the Nacional independent weekly, was killed outside his paper's offices in downtown Zagreb in the third mafia-style killing in the capital since the beginning of the month.
Pukanic's car exploded as he and marketing director Niko Franjic approached the vehicle, police said. They both died and two others were injured in the blast.
"The government must succeed in its efforts to bring about order and so eliminate the apathy demonstrated in these last months and years, or there will be no early entry for Croatia into the EU," Swoboda said.
The country began membership talks in 2005 and hopes for entry in 2010.
Reacting to EU worries, Prime Minister Ivo Sanader admitted that the presence of organised crime in the country could affect the time-frame in which Croatia might become a EU member but said that his government would take action.
The presence of organised crime "could represent an obstacle to our joining the EU if we do not fight it," he told the national parliament.
"But this tragedy cannot be an obstacle to Croatia's entry into the EU," he said.
"It will be an extra driving force to settle accounts with this (scourge) which we do not want to have in Croatia."
Earlier this month Sanader sacked his interior and justice ministers and the head of the national police after a daughter of a prominent lawyer was shot dead in a stairwell.
Zagreb has not seen such a wave of violence since the country's independence from the former Yugoslavia in 1991.
Pukanic, 47, had been considered one of Croatia's most controversial journalists. His murder came only months after he survived a gun attack in downtown Zagreb. The attacker was not found.
The New York-based Committee to Protest Journalists said it was "shocked and saddened" by the attack.
"Even against the backdrop of violence and organised crime that has recently plagued Croatia this bombing marks a significant escalation," CPJ's Europe and Central Asia programme coordinator Nina Ognianova said.
"It is shocking that such a violent attack could take place in Europe and we are calling on the authorities to launch a swift investigation to find those responsible," added International Federation of Journalists' general secretary Aidan White.
"This latest attack is part of a continuing attack on press freedom and investigative journalism in Croatia."
The authorities said Friday that an extra 250 police officers from the regions were being drafted to Zagreb as reinforcements.
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