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Hopes are up but doubts persist

Over the past few years, investors have learnt to take privatization promises by the Croatian government with a pinch of salt. Despite the rapid sales this year of Rijecka banka and other successes, many assets pledged to the market have been yanked from the selling block or otherwise left in state hands.

This explains the relatively subdued reaction to the late-April decision by the Croatian parliament to approve a plan to sell an initial 25% stake in oil and gas group INA Industrija nafte. Valued at roughly e2 billion ($1.8 billion), INA is the country's largest firm, and has in the past drawn interest from a variety of regional players, most notably Austria's OMV and Mol, Hungary's leading oil and gas company.

Under the privatization concept approved by legislators, the strategic share sale will be followed by an IPO of a further 15%, and two tranches of 7% each will be granted to employees and to veterans of the country's 1991-95 war. A final block of 25% plus one share will remain in state hands until the country joins the European Union, probably before 2010.

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