A vice-president of the opposition Croatian People's Party (HNS) and candidate for its new president, Ivan Vrdoljak, said in Osijek on Sunday that politics had to be rid of extremism and populism as the malicious wounds of the Croatian society and that it was his party's duty to do it.

Speaking at a news conference held as part of a campaign for intra-party elections, Vrdoljak said that the party's policy was based on the protection of individual rights and freedoms and on a modern approach to the economy, education and patriotism.

Asked to comment on media speculation about a possible coalition between his party and the Patriotic Coalition led by the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ), Vrdoljak said that the HNS "will not cooperate with the HDZ as it is today" and that it was a constructive member of the Opposition that would support the government's good moves and criticise bad ones.

"I kindly ask the HDZ and Bridge not to drag us into their internal problems. We will never cooperate with extremists who go on marches in black shirts, and with populists who think that populist messages will bring them three more votes... and do nothing except fight over positions," he said.

Asked under which conditions his party could cooperate with the Patriotic Coalition, he said: "Any party that is free of extremism and populism and is open to talks on the harmonising of economic and educational platforms is welcome to be our partner after any election."

Asked to comment on intra-party elections in the Social Democratic Party (SDP), Vrdoljak congratulated Zoran Milanovic on his re-election as SDP leader, adding that after intra-party elections in the HNS, the new party leadership would discuss with the new SDP leadership their future cooperation at the local level, as well as at the next parliamentary elections.

He said that candidacies for HNS president could be submitted by April 13, that every member could compete for any party position if they collected 100 signatures of party members supporting them, and that it was possible that there would be more candidates for HNS president.

The HNS has ten seats in the parliament.

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