Croatia conservatives leader resigns after government fall

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Tomislav Karamarko on Tuesday resigned as leader of the Croatian Democratic Union party after its coalition government fell, forcing early elections.

Karamarko said his resignation will give his party a better chance in the snap vote expected in early September. He added at a press conference that "this act creates space for new impulses."

"I am resigning in the interest of the party, not because of pressure," Karamarko said. "I had promised my party that I will be able to create a political majority and I failed, so I take responsibility for that."

Karamarko, a former spy chief who played a nationalist card to lead the conservatives to victory in last November election, has been at the center of the crisis that triggered the government collapse last week.

The weeks-long deadlock had stalled reform in the European Union's newest state. Parliament voted Monday to dissolve, paving the way for the early vote.

Karamarko has clashed with both the outgoing Prime Minister Tihomir Oreskovic and the junior partner in the center-right coalition, the Most group. A state watchdog also has ruled that Karamarko had a conflict of interest because of ties to a lobbyist for Hungary's MOL oil company, which has clashed with the Croatian government over managing rights in the Croatian oil firm INA.

Karamarko dismissed the accusations as staged.

"I always served my homeland, I did everything for Croatia and HDZ," he said.

The Croatian Democratic Union, or HDZ, led Croatia to independence from the former Yugoslavia and ruled for years after the war of the 1990s. The party won most votes in last November balloting, but not enough to rule alone.

While in power, the HDZ-dominated "Patriotic Coalition" has faced accusations of boosting right-wing sentiment. It was not immediately clear who could succeed Karamarko as HDZ chief.