Croatian conservatives return to power with little-known PM

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ZAGREB, Croatia (AP) — Croatia's conservatives and a small pro-reform party reached an agreement Wednesday to form a new government led by a little-known businessman, ending weeks of uncertainty after last month's inconclusive parliamentary election.

The Croatian Democratic Union and the Most party agreed to nominate Tihomir Oreskovic, a non-partisan candidate, as the prime minister-designate. Together they said they secured 78 votes in Croatia's 151-seat parliament.

Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic formally announced the nomination later Wednesday and called an inaugural parliamentary session for Dec. 28.

The country's Nov. 8 election was inconclusive, with opposition right-wing and ruling left-wing coalitions winning 59 and 56 seats respectively. The newly formed Most ("Bridge" in English) party became kingmaker after winning 19 seats.

Most has negotiated with both coalitions, ultimately choosing to form a new government with the right-wing bloc after several shifts. Just two days ago, the incumbents led by outgoing Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic announced that they had secured a deal with Most.

The outcome means Milanovic and his Social Democratic Party will leave power after four years of leading the newest European Union nation amid deep economic problems, including a public debt that stands at nearly 90 percent of gross domestic product and unemployment hovering around 16 percent.

The conservatives, led by Tomislav Karamarko, return to power after dominating Croatia's political scene for years. They led the state during its war for independence from the Serb-led Yugoslavia in the 1990s, but their popularity plummeted a few years ago after a series of corruption trials against top officials.

Oreskovic, a financial expert who worked for several pharmaceutical companies, is virtually unknown politically.

"I'll do my best to form a quality government," Oreskovic, 49, said after the president's nomination. "Our only goal is to together work on tomorrow becoming a better day than today for Croatian citizens."

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