ZAGREB (Reuters) - The Croatian government on Friday rejected an opposition motion calling for a no-confidence vote against the deputy prime minister over an alleged conflict of interest, in a decision that laid bare deep divisions between the coalition parties.
Croatia's main opposition party, the Social Democrats (SDP), last week filed a no-confidence motion against Deputy Prime Minister Tomislav Karamarko.
On Thursday, junior coalition partner Most (The Bridge) called on Karamarko to resign, a move which could topple the four-month-old government.
But on Friday, a majority of government ministers rejected the motion for a no-confidence vote, the Hina news agency reported.
All six ministers from the Most party voted in support of the motion, but ministers from the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ), who form the biggest party in the coalition, voted against.
The ministers' decision will buy the government some time as parliament will eventually hold a vote of no-confidence in Karamarko.
If the government had accepted the motion on Friday, then Karamarko would have gone immediately, most likely bringing down the government. His party now has an opportunity to rally support and potentially find new coalition partners to back it when the vote is held.
Karamarko, who leads the conservative HDZ, has denied reports that his wife's business relationship with Hungarian oil company MOL - the biggest shareholder in Croatian energy company INA - amounted to a conflict of interest.
Most party leader Bozo Petrov called on Karamarko to resign following the government announcement.
Karamarko said he was seeking to hold the government together and neither Most nor Petrov would bring it down.
Relations within the coalition have been strained by disputes about political appointments, which have slowed down reforms aimed at improving the business environment and selling state assets to boost investment and tackle unemployment.
(Reporting by Ivana Sekularac; Editing by Giles Elgood)