Serbian Prime Minister Is Killed; Suspects Arrested
Police Look for Suspects With Ties to Organized Crime Group
By Michael Dobbs
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, March 13, 2003; 1:41 PM
BRUSSELS, March 12 -- Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic, chief organizer of the October 2000 democratic revolution that toppled Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, was shot and killed today by snipers as he approached the door of his government headquarters in Belgrade.
The Serbian government immediately declared a state of emergency, suspending all political activity in the Balkan republic of 10 million people and reintroducing rigid controls on the news media. Police officers and army troops began a massive hunt for Djindjic's killers, setting up roadblocks around the capital and halting all bus, rail and plane traffic out of the city.
Late in the day, the government said the killing was the work of a criminal gang whose leaders include Milorad Lukovic, the former head of an elite paramilitary police unit called the Red Berets. "The assassination of Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic represents an attempt by this group to stop the fight against organized crime that just started and for them to avoid their own arrest," the government said in a statement. It did not offer evidence to support that claim.
[Police arrested more than 70 suspects Thursday in the assassination of Serbia’s prime minister, the Associates Press reported.
[The organized crime group Zemun Clan has been blamed for the killing, and those arrested
were "either directly or indirectly" linked with the group, Belgrade police chief Milan Obradovic told the AP.
[Still at large, however, were the prime suspects — including clan
leader Milorad Lukovic, a former paramilitary leader with close ties to Milosevic.]
Djindjic was one of Washington's closest allies in the region.
News media in Belgrade reported that two men were taken into custody. The murder plunged Serbia into a political crisis following 21/2 years of democratic rule and more than a half-century of authoritarianism, first under the Communists, then under Milosevic, a Communist-turned-Serbian nationalist.
Many Serbian observers said there was no obvious replacement for Djindjic. "He was the person who held everything together -- cutting deals, twisting arms, buying other parties out," said Ljiljana Smajlovic, a leading political commentator.
Djindjic and Vojislav Kostunica, his rival and collaborator in the movement that toppled Milosevic, dominated Serbian politics for the past two years. Kostunica, who succeeded Milosevic as president of Yugoslavia and stepped down earlier this month when the country was restructured into a looser federation called Serbia and Montenegro, remains a highly popular figure in Serbia.
The assassination bore the marks of a professional killing and a well-organized conspiracy.
Djindjic, using crutches because of a sports injury, was struck in the abdomen and back by two bullets from high-powered rifles as he walked the few steps from his armored automobile to a door at his headquarters. Police said multiple snipers apparently fired from the third floor of an abandoned building across the street. Another bullet hit Djindjic's car.
He was rushed to a hospital alive. But he died there at 1:30 p.m. Belgrade time, the government said.
Djindjic narrowly survived an apparent assassination attempt last month when a truck swerved into his convoy of cars. He blamed the incident on organized crime.
© 2003 The Washington Post Company