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ZAGREB, June 17 (Reuters) - Croatia is set to open an international tender for on-shore exploration of gas and oil in the Drava river basin and the east of the country next month, Economy Minister Ivan Vrdoljak said on Tuesday.
"I expect the first round of the forthcoming on-shore gas and oil exploration tenders in the second half of July," Vrdoljak told an energy conference in Zagreb.
The government hopes that a drive to boost its energy independence will help economic recovery. Croatia, which joined the EU last July, is likely to suffer a sixth recession in a row this year.
Vrdoljak said another round of on-shore tenders could most probably be expected in the autumn and in 2015, and would focus more on central and southern parts of the newest European Union member.
Croatia is currently running an international tender for off-shore Adriatic gas and oil exploration, which is open until early November.
Vrdoljak said there was considerable interest from more than 40 companies for Adriatic oil and gas exploration.
Officials declined to say the names of any interested firms citing legal limitations, but local media said that among the potential bidders could be international firms such as Gazprom and Lukoil from Russia, Exxon from the U.S., France's Total or Germany's RWE.
The first exploration contracts are expected to be signed early next year, Vrdoljak said.
Croatia satisfies 60-65 percent of its gas needs and around 70 percent of electricity consumption from its own production.
Vrdoljak said Croatia would get its own electricity bourse next month. Meanwhile the government expects to sign a contract for building a new block of a major thermal plant in the northern Adriatic by the end of the year.
Reporting by Igor Ilic; Editing by Zoran Radosavljevic and Louise Heavens