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Police arrest two suspects in killing of Serbian prime minister

Wednesday, March 19, 2003

BELGRADE, Serbia-Montenegro -- Serbian lawmakers elected a new national leader Tuesday who pleged to carry out the pro-western reforms and anti-crime efforts spearheaded by assassinated Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic.

"I shall be decisive in carrying out Djindjic's vision," said Zoran Zivkovic, a close associate of Djindjic's, after parliament voted 128-100 to make him prime minister.

Meanwhile, Serbian police continued to hunt for Djindjic's killers, arresting two key suspects and seizing weapons in the home of a slain underworld boss, the government announced Tuesday.

Late Monday, Dragan Ninkovic and Zoran Vukojevic, two key members of an underworld clan blamed for Djindjic's assassination last week, were arrested. The government described Ninkovic as the leader of a Serbian drug cartel and Vukojevic as a former policeman-turned-criminal.

Zivkovic warned that Djindjic's killers would face justice. Police have rounded up more than 750 suspects, including members of a powerful crime gang that thrived under former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, and are now accused of masterminding Djindjic's murder.

Other suspects remain at large, including Milorad Lukovic, a paramilitary commander active in Milosevic's war campaigns.

, and Dusan Spasojevic and Dejan Milenkovic, members of Zemun Clan, an underworld group named after a Belgrade suburb.

The killing prompted the government to declare a state of emergency, allowing the police to hold suspects for up to 30 days without bringing charges, and banned media reports that might hurt the ongoing investigation.

Dismissing criticism that freedom of speech is being curbed, the authorities shut down a Belgrade daily, Nacional, on Tuesday and banned distribution of another daily, Dan, published in Montenegro, Serbia's smaller partner in the two-member union formerly known as Yugoslavia.

About 15 policemen entered Nacional's premises and ordered the staff to stop working because of their alleged anti-Djindjic editorial policy and ties to Milosevic's nationalists.

Weeks before his assassination, Djindjic predicted he would be killed for his drive to reform the country, the chief U.N. war crimes prosecutor, Carla Del Ponte, said in an interview published Tuesday.

She told the Rome daily La Repubblica that she met privately with Djindjic last month in Belgrade and that "he outlined his plans for reforms in great detail," and "all of a sudden, he told me, 'They will kill me."'

Del Ponte did not elaborate.

Djindjic's cooperation with the U.N. court and plans to fight organized crime made him many enemies.

The main suspects remain at large: Milorad Lukovic, a paramilitary commander active in Milosevic's war campaigns, and Dusan Spasojevic and Dejan Milenkovic, members of the Zemun Clan, an underworld group named after a Belgrade suburb.

The U.S. Ambassador to Belgrade expressed confidence that Serbia's leaders would carry on with Djindjic's pro-Western reforms.

"Within the Serbian government there are a lot of strong individuals who are really committed to democratic and economic reform," the ambassador, William Montgomery, said adding that it is "our obligation in the international community to give them all the support possible."

Zivkovic, an entrepreneur from Serbia's southern city of Nis where he also served as mayor, reiterated that mafia types with links to Milosevic as well as current "political and financial structures" were responsible for Djindjic's death.

Belgrade's B-92 radio reported that authorities were preparing to fire a state attorney and a supreme court judge for allowing the release last month of a man allegedly involved in an earlier, unsuccessful attempt on Djindjic's life.

The man, Dejan Milenkovic, swerved his truck on Feb. 21 into a lane where Djindjic's motorcade was traveling. The prime minister's driver narrowly avoided a collision. Milenkovic disappeared following his release.


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