Anti-Croat sentiment is running high in Serbia following Croatia's decision not to approve the opening of Chapter 23 in EU-Serbia accession negotiations, leaders of the Croat minority in Serbia said on Monday.

They said that this would have a negative impact on the turnout of Croat voters for the forthcoming parliamentary election and on support for the party representing the Croats in Serbia.

"Serbia has been gripped by anti-Croat hysteria. It is obviously a coordinated action involving leading and minor Serbian parties, media and certain organisations," the chairman of the Croat National Council (HNV), Slaven Bacic, told Croat media in the northern province of Vojvodina.

Bacic said that the Croat minority and its leadership "are under pressure to exert pressure on Croatia to give the green light to Serbia's integration into the EU." He said that tensions were particularly high in the Srijem region where some members of the Croat community were publicly referred to as Ustashas (Nazi collaborators during the Second World War), insulted and told to move to Croatia.

Speaking of Croatia's demand regarding the rights of the Croat minority in Serbia, Bacic said that the demand was understandable because Croatia "only wants the bilateral agreement between the two countries on ensuring parliamentary seats for representatives of the community to be respected."

The chairman of the Democratic League of Croats in Vojvodina (DSHV), Tomislav Zigmanov, also warned about the anti-Croat sentiment in Serbia.

"The situation is very unfavourable for us. (Serbian Radical Party leader) Seselj has been acquitted of war crimes charges, an election campaign is under way, and Croatia is making Serbia's progress in EU negotiations contingent on the fulfilment of certain obligations. All this is creating anti-Croat sentiment in the public, which as a result increases fear within the Croat minority," Zigmanov said.

He said that despite that the DSHV would act positively to encourage Croats to vote in the Serbian parliamentary election set for April 24.

The DSHV, as the only political party of the Croat minority, will run in a coalition with the Democratic Party.

Unlike the Serb minority in Croatia, which is guaranteed three seats in the national parliament, the Croat minority in Serbia is not guaranteed seats in the Serbian National Assembly even though that is provided for by the agreement on mutual protection of the national minorities between the two countries.

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