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Croatia marks start as EU member

ZAGREB, Croatia — In its first day as a European Union member, Croatia on Monday pledged to help other Balkan countries move closer to the bloc and to help bring lasting stability to a region that was engulfed in conflict 20 years ago.

Croatian President Ivo Josipovic met with leaders of other Balkan countries just hours after Croatia became the union’s 28th member state. It is only the second former Yugoslav republic to join, following Slovenia in 2004.

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Josipovic said Balkan leaders have agreed to future meetings to discuss joint projects and resolve remaining issues weighing on regional ties. EU officials will join the gatherings that focus on further EU integration of the region, he said.

‘‘I look at the future with much optimism,’’ Josipovic said.

Croatia marked the entry on Sunday with fireworks and festivities that lasted long into the night. EU membership is considered to be a milestone for the country of 4.2 million people that suffered four years of war after declaring independence from the former Yugoslavia in 1991.

Integration into the EU is viewed as key in pacifying the Balkans, still reeling from the wars that claimed more than 100,000 lives and left millions homeless. Lured by the prospects of EU entry, Balkan foes Serbia and Kosovo recently struck a historic deal normalizing ties.

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