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Croatia condemns WW2 regime crimes after Jews, Serbs boycott commemoration event

General view of a monument to affected detainees of Jasenovac camp in Jasenovac November 5, 2014. REUTERS/Antonio Bronic

ZAGREB (Reuters) - Croatia’s new center-right government condemned on Monday the crimes of the country’s World War Two Nazi puppet regime after the Jewish and Serbian communities said they would boycott an event this month commemorating concentration camp victims.

Representatives of the small Jewish community, minority Serb population and a leading anti-fascism group have said they will not attend an April 22 ceremony in Jasenovac, site of a former concentration camp. They have cited government inaction over incidents including a march where protesters shouted the greeting of the WW2 regime.

They say these incidents “downplay and revitalize the Ustashe regime” that controlled the country during the war, and they have decided to organize separate commemoration ceremonies in Jasenovac later this month.

In a bid to win their support ahead of the April 22 event, President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic met representatives of Jews, Serbs, Gypsies and anti-fascists on Monday, and Prime Minister Tihomir Oreskovic issued a statement condemning the Ustashe’s crimes.

“The Croatian government, and I personally, condemn the crimes of the Ustashe regime,” he said.

“April 22 is a day of remembrance and commemoration to innocent victims of Jasenovac ... I’m sorry that this occasion, instead of paying respect to the victims, is used for politicization that opens new divisions in society. All that not only insults the victims and their families, but also inflicts huge damage on Croatia.”

Jasenovac, located some 70 km east of Zagreb, is notorious for mass killings of Jews, Serbs, Gypsies and anti-fascist Croats under the Ustashe regime, which ruled the so-called Independent State of Croatia from 1941 to 1945.

“The president is concerned about divisions and negative trends visible in society. We’re ready for talks on how to start changing the negative trend of playing down the Ustashe ideology and the victims of its regime,” said a representative of Croatian Serbs, Milorad Pupovac.

The Jewish and Serb communities have also voiced concern over changes to the exhibits at the Jasenovac museum which they say fail to adequately and fully reflect the criminal nature of the Ustashe regime.

Reporting by Igor Ilic; Editing by Hugh Lawson