Croatia's incumbent President Stipe Mesic, credited with moving the ex-Yugoslav country closer to the West, overwhelmingly won a second term yesterday in a run-off election.
Mr Mesic, 70, won 66 per cent of the vote, after nearly all votes were counted. His rival, the governing conservative party's minister, Jadranka Kosor, garnered 34 per cent.
Mr Mesic said voters recognised in him "a stubborn fighter" for Croatia's course and better living standards.
"Croatia has passed a long way in building its democracy and the world and Europe recognized that. That's why we're now before the doors of the European Union," Mesic said to cheers from his supporters.
He also offered a conciliatory hand to the outgoing Croatian Democratic Union after a fierce campaign, saying: "Croatia is walking into the mainstream Europe by big steps and now we have to be united."
Ms Kosor congratulated Mr Mesic but added that her standing was "respectable." The result gives Mr Mesic a mandate until late 2009, when the nation of 4.5 million people hopes to join the European Union.
The result is a blow to Prime Minister Ivo Sanader's Croatian Democratic Union, which returned to power a year ago. The party only recently distanced itself from its nationalist roots to become a pro-European conservative group.
About 4.4 million people - including 400,000 living abroad - registered to vote, with a turnout just more than 50 per cent.