• Croatia celebrates historic European Union entry

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    CROATIA20130702

    Croatia’s President Ivo Josipovic (right) holds a shirt received from Lithuania’s President Dalia Grybauskaite during the celebration of the accession of Croatia to the European Union at Ban Jelesic square in Zagreb on Sunday. AFP PHOTO

    ZAGREB: Tens of thousands of Croatians cheered the country’s entry into the European Union at midnight on Sunday as fireworks lit up the skies above Zagreb.

    It was a historic moment for the former Yugoslav republic, coming nearly two decades after it emerged from a bloody independence war in the 1990s.

    Some 20,000 people gathered at Zagreb main square, joining more than 100 European dignitaries to mark event on the stroke of midnight (2200 GMT) when Croatia officially became the bloc’s 28th member.

    “Welcome to the European Union!” European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso told the crowd.

    Countdown celebrations were held in towns throughout the country as crowds cheered to the EU anthem, Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy,” waving EU and Croatia’s flags in joy.

    Welcoming Croatia into the bloc, European President Herman Van Rompuy said the country had “crossed an important threshold.

    “It will change the life of this nation for good,” Van Rompuy told the festive crowd in Zagreb.

    As thousands of Croatians took to the city squares to celebrate, officials removed the “Customs” sign at a border crossing with fellow EU member Slovenia.

    At the same time, the “EU” sign appeared at the land border with Serbia, another ex-Yugoslav republic which on Friday got a green light from Brussels to open membership talks by January 2014.

    But the celebrations were overshadowed by economic worries that the membership would only burden already recession-hit Croatia’s economy.

    “There is nothing to celebrate, it will not get better, prices will jump and we will become a cheap workforce,” said 30-year-old Zagreb administrator Branka Horvat.

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