Slovakia offers Croatia to assist in EU negotiations

Slovakia's prime minister on Thursday offered his country's assistance to Croatia as it moves toward possible EU and NATO membership. Slovakia was one of 10 mostly former eastern bloc countries to join the EU and NATO last year.

Croatia opened membership talks with the EU last week and hopes to win membership by 2009. Zagreb has been busy priming its negotiators for tough talks on issues ranging from legislation to traffic regulations, the AP reports.

Formerly part of Czechoslovakia until 1993, Slovakia shares a similar history with Croatia, which was a part of the old Yugoslav federation until it won independence in 1992. Both countries also took detours on the road to democracy and the European mainstream.

Slovakia was internationally shunned during the hardline rule of Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar, who put strains on democracy and the rule of law until Dzurinda took power in 1998 and implemented rapid political and economic reforms.

Croatia was also isolated during the authoritarian leadership of late President Franjo Tudjman, who fomented nationalist violence against the country's Serb minority. The country began implementing sweeping democratic changes after his death in 1999. A.M.

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