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Menaced radio to stay on air

Croatia's only independent radio station won a broadcasting licence yesterday, two months after mass protests in Zagreb thwarted an attempt by the government to shut it down.

Radio 101, a Zagreb-based station viewed by many Croats as a beacon of free expression, was granted a five-year licence by the state telecommunications council, the same body which tried to silence the station last November.

Radio 101 is highly popular with young Croats, people of independent views and critics of President Franjo Tudjman's nationalist government. More than 100,000 people jammed the streets of Zagreb in support of the station two months ago in the largest anti-government protest since the country declared independence from Yugoslavia in 1991.

Since coming to power in 1990, Mr Tudjman has ensured that most Croatian newspapers, as well as national television and radio, have fallen under the direct control or influence of his ruling party, the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ). However, the mass protests in Zagreb combined with pressure from Western governments to force him to give way over Radio 101.

Mr Tudjman, 74, who is thought to be suffering from advanced cancer, had more patience with Radio 101 in the late 1980s, when it gave him airtime as an outspoken dissident against the former Communist government. In recent years, the HDZ has been sharply critical of the station, a point that emphasises the growing gap between the ruling party and liberal public opinion in Zagreb.

Voters in the capital, where a quarter of Croatia's 4.8 million people live, rejected the HDZ in municipal elections in 1995, but Mr Tudjman has refused to allow the opposition to appoint a mayor. Instead, he has used his right under Croatian law to veto opposition candidates for the job and appoint a member of his own party.