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IN THE NEWS - March 15, 2003: Serbian Prime Minister Murdered - 2003-03-14

This is Steve Ember with the VOA Special English program, In the News.

Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic was murdered Wednesday. He was shot outside the government headquarters in Belgrade and died in a hospital. Mister Djindjic was fifty years old.

By Thursday officials had arrested fifty-six people. Emergency measures gave the military the same powers as the police to arrest suspects.

Serb officials said they suspected an organized crime group known as the Zemun clan. Officials say Mister Djindjic was about to arrest the leader of the group, Milorad Lukovic, and other members suspected of war crimes.

Mister Lukovic -- a former secret police chief loyal to Slobodan Milosevic -- had changed sides and supported the efforts of Mister Djindjic to oust the Yugoslav president.

Zoran Djindjic led a movement that brought democracy to the former Yugoslavia. Slobodan Milosevic ruled the country for thirteen years. Voters ousted him in elections in two-thousand. His nationalist policies had incited ethnic conflicts. Wars took place in the former Yugoslavia republics of Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina.

In nineteen-ninety-nine, an American-led bombing campaign ended attacks by Mister Milosevic against ethnic Albanians in Kosovo. That Serbian province is now under United Nations control.

Enemies disliked Mister Djindjic for sending Slobodan Milosevic to trial by the war crimes court in The Hague. Mister Djindjic had recently promised the West that he would try to arrest former Bosnian Serb military commander Ratko Mladic.

Political murders became common toward the end of Mister Milosevic’s rule and continued afterward. Criminal groups sought control of the economy and the government.

Zoran Djindjic had many enemies in Serbia. They included ousted communist and nationalist leaders. Last month a truck tried to hit his car on the way to the Belgrade airport. The prime minister blamed that incident on organized crime.

Mister Djindjic’s main political opponent, Vojislav Kostunica, could now seek the job of prime minister of Serbia. Mister Kostunica served as president of Yugoslavia after Mister Milosevic. But he left office as the country became a looser federation of its two republics. In fact, Yugoslavia is now called Serbia and Montenegro.

The Serbian government has appointed deputy prime minister Nebojsa Covic as temporary replacement for Mister Djindjic. Other politicians who could become prime minister do not have as much international support as Mister Djindjic had. There are fears of renewed violence, and fears that nationalists could return to power.

This VOA Special English program, In the News, was written by Cynthia Kirk. This is Steve Ember.