Croatia's government was steps away from falling on Friday as bickering coalition partners refused to resign from their cabinet posts as demanded by Prime Minister Tihomir Oreskovic, withdrawing support for him.
The premier said that feuding between his deputies, Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) chief Tomislav Karamarko and Bozo Petrov, the head of the reformist junior partner Most (Bridge), prevented the cabinet from functioning despite being in place just six months.
"Relations between Mr Karamarko and Mr Petrov have become an overwhelming burden for this government and for Croatia," Oreskovic said in an address to the nation.
The two leaders are feuding about allegations of corruption that Petrov directed at Karamarko before demanding his resignation last week.
HDZ and Most forged a government in January after difficult coalition talks, agreeing to back the nonpartisan Oreskovic as prime minister. But they have since mostly been at odds, blocking Oreskovic's work and raising the possibility of new elections.
"I put a lot of effort in recent days to improve their relations, but in vain. So, I call on Karamarko and Petrov to step down from their positions in the interest of the nation," said Oreskovic, a political novice who was an internationally successful business manager before taking the job.
He added that holding new elections would not be a good solution, because they would cost "billions of euros."
Oreskovic's fate in office appeared uncertain as both leaders balked at his demand.
"We reject the call for the resignation. We're the strongest party in parliament," Karamarko said, adding that Oreskovic's call was "incomprehensible" and that he "no more enjoys the confidence of HDZ."
Petrov said he was "willing to resign if that's the cost of Croatia's stability," but conditioned that with the departure of Karamarko and two other HDZ cabinet ministers - which the party has already refused.
Elections on November 8 produced a razor-thin victory for Karamarko's HDZ over previous prime minister Zoran Milanovic's Social Democrats.
The tally in the 151-seat parliament was 59-56 for HDZ versus the Social Democrats.
That allowed Most, then with 19 representatives, to play kingmaker. But the party has since splintered and it is unclear whether it would survive another internal tug-of-war.
A former Yugoslav republic that had to fight for its independence and sovereignty in the 1990s, Croatia became the latest addition to the European Union three years ago.
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