Croatia coalition collapses, raising election prospect

Croatia's Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic triggered the collapse of the ruling coalition after sacking several ministers

Croatia's ruling coalition collapsed Friday after only six months in power, leaving the premier faced with finding the support of a new parliamentary majority or calling a fresh election.

The European Union member's politics are notoriously shaky, with two general elections in the past 18 months.

In a surprise move on Thursday, Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic of the conservative HDZ party sacked three ministers from his junior coalition partner, the Most party, following a dispute over his finance minister.

On Friday he fired the only remaining minister from Most in his cabinet.

"We are no longer part of this government," Most's leader and parliamentary speaker Bozo Petrov told reporters Friday.

The split stems from huge troubles engulfing retail giant Agrokor, the country's largest employer, which is saddled with six billion dollars of debt.

The credibility of Plenkovic's Finance Minister Zdravko Maric has come under scrutiny as he was formerly a top manager at Agrokor, and the opposition is calling for his head.

The Most ministers refused to support Maric, prompting their dismissal.

Petrov accused Plenkovic and Maric of protecting the "crime which is ongoing at Agrokor".

Plenkovic, 47, who came to power after an early general election in September, said Thursday he was ready for fresh polls if necessary.

The previous barely-functioning coalition government, also involving the HDZ and Most, collapsed last June over a conflict of interest scandal after just five months in power.

The HDZ has 58 deputies in the 151-seat assembly but Plenkovic said he believed he could form a new ruling coalition without Most (whose name means "Bridge" in Croatian).

The parliament is set to discuss the finance minister's fate next week.