Croatian president calls for 'national salvation government' after polls

FILE PHOTO: President of Croatia Zoran Milanovic speaks during a press conference of the informal meeting with leaders of the alliance's members in the Western Balkans Skopje

SARAJEVO (Reuters) - President Zoran Milanovic called for a "government of national salvation" on Saturday as Croatia's constitutional court said it would consider the constitutional and electoral implications of his shock bid for the more powerful post of prime minister.

The president set April 17 as an election date on Friday after lawmakers in the European Union country had dissolved parliament a day before, acting on a motion by opposition parties critical of the policies of Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic of the centre-right Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ).

Milanovic, a populist whose presidential term expires in February 2025, said that he would resign as president only "after winning the polls", causing uproar among political rivals saying that such a move would contravene the constitution.

His Social Democratic Party (SDP), which has led the bloc of 11 opposition parties requesting that the polls should be held before autumn when they were originally planned, endorsed his candidacy for prime minister on Saturday.

Milanovic, who was prime minister from 2011 to 2016, said his move was prompted by the HDZ-led government's choice of judge for the role of chief state attorney.

"This is the battle for a ´government of national salvation," Milanovic, who has been at loggerheads with Plenkovic over foreign and public policies for most of his term, said after a gathering of his party.

"We shall stop the Croatian tragedy," he added.

Most opposition parties supported Milanovic´s bid to run for the prime minister.

"This is necessary bearing in mind the current condition of the state," said Dalija Oreskovic, a parliament deputy from the Centre party who was often critical of Milanovic´s statements.

"I have understood his act as a call for general mobilisation against HDZ forces," she told N1 television.

The conservative HDZ has led the government in the small southeastern EU country for the past three terms, with Plenkovic as premier since 2016.

(Reporting by Daria Sito-Sucic; Editing by Alexander Smith)