Croatian People's Party (HNS) leader Ivan Vrdoljak on Friday denied accusations by the ruling Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) that in his capacity as economy minister in the previous government he had helped his wife and the ATO Inzinjering firm win contracts with a state-owned company.

HDZ member of Parliament Zeljko Fiolic said on Thursday that the HDZ was in possession of documents showing that Vrdoljak, while serving as economy minister, had helped his wife and other persons and companies acquire more than HRK 150 million (EUR 20 million) in contracts with the HEP power company.

Speaking at a press conference, Vrdoljak produced an Osijek Commercial Court ruling showing that he had resigned from the ATO Inzinjering firm in 2009. He said that after that he had had no dealings with that firm and that he was not afraid of an investigation.

"An unknown HDZ official, who happens to be from the police, appears in the public and accuses me of a conflict of interest. The timing of this incoherent accusation, the person who speaks about it, the media which carry it, which are financed by MOL's consultants, and the manner in which this is presented say it all," Vrdoljak said.

He added that they had tried to discredit him earlier when MOL, the Hungarian oil and gas group, co-financed intelligence officers to see where they could discredit him and former HNS leader and foreign minister Vesna Pusic, but failed.

Vrdoljak said that by trying to discredit him the HDZ attempted to divert the attention of the public from developments surrounding the curriculum reform, the increase in prices of health services and the scandal involving the wife of HDZ leader and First Deputy Prime Minister Tomislav Karamarko.

Vrdoljak said that his party's position was that Karamarko must step down. He said that the HNS MPs would vote in favour of Karamarko's impeachment because Croatia needed a stable government and the only way to get one was in elections.

"We should go to the polls and get a firm government with a clear platform," Vrdoljak said, adding that the HNS was ready for elections. He said that an impeachment vote should be held as soon as possible.

Vrdoljak called on everyone to support the head of the task force for comprehensive curriculum reform, Boris Jokic, and his team, who had resigned over political pressure.

He said that problems had arisen due to the non-functioning of the government and parliament, which made it possible for "marginal groups" to halt the education reform. He called on citizens to come to a protest rally in Zagreb on Wednesday to voice their support for the reform.

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