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BOMBING OF TWO JOURNALISTS THREATENS CROATIA'S BID TO JOIN EU

It has been called one of the most serious attacks on press freedom in years in the entire South East European region, one that could seriously damage Croatia's bid to join the European Union: two journalists were killed in a car bombing in Croatia, report the South East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO), an affiliate of the International Press Institute (IPI), and other IFEX members.

Ivo Pukanic, journalist and owner of the NCL Media Group in Zagreb, and Niko Franjic, marketing director of the leading investigative weekly newspaper "Nacional", which is published by NCL, were killed on 23 October when a car bomb exploded under Pukanic's car. The bomb was detonated as Franjic and Pukanic were getting into the car outside the paper's building, in the centre of the Croatian capital Zagreb. Two other "Nacional" employees were injured in the explosion.

SEEMO said it was "alarmed about this heinous crime," and warned that many Croatian journalists were seriously threatened or attacked over the past year with impunity. According to the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), the two men are the first media workers killed in Croatia in the post-war period.

Pukanic has been praised as one of Croatia's top investigative journalists - including for an interview with the Croatian General Ante Gotovina, who was hiding from The Hague war crimes tribunal at the time. But he has also been criticised for being too close to powerful politicians and even criminal figures.

He had repeatedly informed SEEMO about threats he received, starting in 2002. In April this year, he survived a gun attack near his apartment in central Zagreb. The attacker was never apprehended, says the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). According to IFJ, for a few months after the incident police provided Pukanic protection, which was lifted in August at his request.

Pukanic co-founded "Nacional" in 1995, and four years later was named journalist of the year in Croatia. "Nacional" has a reputation for reporting on politically sensitive topics, as well as on corruption and human rights abuses. Over the years Pukanic built a media company with several regular publications, and last year also opened the NCL Journalism School.

Croatia has recently been gripped by a wave of increasingly brazen mafia attacks that could damage the country's efforts to join the EU, say IFEX members, which it is hoping to do in 2011. In June, Dusan Miljus, an investigative journalist who covers crime and corruption for the popular daily "Jutarnji List", was severely beaten by two men armed with baseball bats in Zagreb, reports CPJ. The crime remains unsolved.

"It is only by convicting the killers of Franjic and Pukanic, as well as the attackers of other journalists in Croatia, that your country will be able to remove this stain from its reputation and take its place in the European Union," warned the World Association of Newspapers (WAN) in a letter to Prime Minister Ivo Sanader.

Sanader had sacked his interior and justice ministers, as well as the head of the national police, earlier this month in response to the wave of violence. And in an emergency session of Croatia's national security council called after the bomb attack, Sanader said, "We will fight organised crime or terrorism - whatever is behind this murder - to its very end. From now on, no criminal can sleep peacefully... Croatia will be a safe country."

Last month, 300 journalists joined a protest in Zagreb organised by the Croatian Journalists' Association (CJA), an IFJ partner, against increasing threats to journalists and citizens in Croatia. "Many journalists have been threatened and targeted in the past years but we notice that the situation is worsening," said CJA. "The association already protested twice in the past, and we now need strong action against crime."

Visit these links:
- SEEMO/IPI: http://tinyurl.com/584vtg
- CJA: http://www.hnd.hr/
- CPJ: http://tinyurl.com/584x3p
- IFJ: http://tinyurl.com/55v8wc
- RSF: http://www.rsf.org/article.php3?id_article=29087
- WAN: http://www.wan-press.org/article17923.html
- Sanader's remarks in "The Irish Times": http://tinyurl.com/6h2rzn
(Photo: Journalist Ivo Pukanic (pictured) and a colleague were killed in a car bomb in Zagreb. Photo courtesy of Reuters)

(29 October 2008)

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