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Reformist Serbian Prime Minister Assassinated

After an emergency cabinet session following the assassination, Serbia’s acting president declared a state of emergency.

Djindjic, 50, died of his wounds in a Belgrade hospital after having been shot in the abdomen and back, said Deputy Prime Minister Nebojsa Covic.

The local independent B92 radio reported that two people were arrested in connection with the shooting and the Beta news agency reported three people detained. No motive was attributed to the killing as of late Wednesday, but some reports indicated investigators were examining the possibility that organized crime elements had orchestrated the attack.

Meanwhile, police carrying machine guns and wearing bulletproof vests searched cars and checked passengers in downtown Belgrade. Bus, rail and plane traffic from Belgrade was halted.

Djindjic narrowly escaped injury in what many believe was another assassination attempt last month when a truck suddenly swerved out of its lane toward a convoy of cars, one of which was carrying the prime minister.

He later dismissed the Feb. 21 alleged assassination attempt as a “futile effort” that could not stop democratic reforms.

“If someone thinks the law and the reforms can be stopped by eliminating me, then that is a huge delusion,” Djindjic was quoted as saying by the Politika newspaper at the time.

Djindjic played a crucial role in the popular uprising that toppled former Serbian strongman Slobodan Milosevic. The reformer also was pivotal in the decision to hand Milosevic over to the international war crimes tribunal in June 2001. Serbian nationalists, including his past ally former Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica, roundly criticized Djindjic for the decision.

Djindjic recently promised Western envoys that he would try to arrest former Bosnian Serb military commander and war crimes fugitive, Gen. Ratko Mladic. Mladic is believed to be hiding somewhere in Serbia.

Djindjic, a liberal aligned to the West, often feuded with the more nationalist Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica over the pace of reform. The two also clashed over Djindjic’s demand for the dismissal of the police and state security chiefs. The prime minister also angered coalition partners with alleged attempts by associates to take control of mismanaged state enterprises in the aftermath of the uprising that toppled Milosevic.

Kostunica told B-92 radio Wednesday that while he disagreed with Djindjic on many issues, the assassination was “awful … this shows how little we have done to democratize society.” He called the killing “a warning to look ourselves in the eye and ask how much crime has permeated all the pores of society.”

President Stjepan Mesic of Croatia, which fought Yugoslav troops in its struggle for independence, described the assassination as “an act of madness.”

“This is not good for Serbia, not good for us in the neighborhood. Serbia has been through a difficult period … and this assassination will slow down its progress towards democracy,” he told reporters.

Djindjic, who was married with two children, took office as Serbian prime minister in February 2001 after December elections pledging to clamp down on corruption and widespread organized crime.

Jailed as a dissident student in the 1970s, he became frustrated by the fragmented opposition to Milosevic during the 1990s. But as one of the leading opposition voices in the war-torn nation, Djindjic became a leader-in-waiting during the successful street uprising in 2000.

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