- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 15, 2003

BELGRADE, Serbia-Montenegro, March 15 (UPI) — More than 150,000 Serb citizens on Saturday joined their new president, Serbian officials and community leaders, some 50 delegations of world governments and the family of Zoran Djindjic to honor and mourn the slain prime minister, assassinated Wednesday by a sniper as he walked from his car to the government center in Belgrade.

The procession wound through the chilly streets of the Serbian capital from the funeral ceremony at St. Sava Cathedral to the Alley of the Greats in Belgrade's main cemetery. Behind Djindjic's coffin walked his widow, two children, mother and sister as well as leaders of Serbia-Montenegro, a state that formally recreated itself from the remaining fragments of former Soviet satellite Yugoslavia only this month. Svetozar Marovic was elected president March 7.

International representatives followed in cars driven via other routes in a wide central area banned to all other traffic. Among leaders of the four other now independent Yugoslav republics — Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Macedonia — were European Commission President Romano Prodi; Greek Foreign Minister George Papandreou, the current head of the European Union Presidency; and Council of Europe Secretary-General Walter Schwimmer. Djindjic, the first sitting European leader killed since Swedish Prime Minister Olof Palme was shot in 1986, had been leading the country toward Western reforms with the aim of one day joining the European Union.

The pretender to the Serbian throne, Alexander Karadjordjevic, the son of Yugoslavia's last King Peter, and his wife Katharine were present at the graveside and earlier at the requiem mass served by senior bishop Amfilohije Radovic of the Serbian Orthodox Church in the St. Sava Cathedral. The head of the church, Patriarch Pavle, also officiated at the ceremony.

The still unfinished church has been built on top a hill where the body of the Serbian patron saint, a son of the first Serbian 12th-century ruler Stephen Nemanja, was burned by Ottoman Turk invaders some centuries later.

The coffin bearing Djindjic's body was carried on a gun carriage headed by a military brass band and surrounded by a platoon of the army's guard brigade along the four-kilometer (2.5-mile) route to the cemetery. The long cortege of an estimated 150,000 people meandered through the streets, lined all along by further thousands of silent bystanders.

Djindjic, 50, was hit just after stepping out of his car by two bullets fired from a sniper rifle from a window of a nearby house. Three as-yet unidentified men, one carrying a rifle and the other two with pistols were reported seen fleeing the house and disappearing in a nearby street.

Wounded in the stomach and back, the prime minister was rushed to Belgrade Emergency Center but died soon after. A bodyguard was seriously wounded.

The government immediately blamed the killing on the leaders of a 200-strong criminal gang, known as the Zemun Clan after Belgrade's twin town of Zemun. It published the photographs of eight of the leaders, including the three most powerful gangland bosses who have allegedly become enormously rich through kidnappings of leading businessmen for ransom, murder and drugs trafficking — reportedly their original business in the late 1980s.

The three include Milorad Lukovic, known as Legija, a former sergeant in the French Foreign Legion who in the first half of 1990s rose to the rank of colonel and commander of ex-Serbian and Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's Special Operations Unit. This was the military-wing of his secret service which took part in ethnic conflicts in Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo in the last decade.

The other two are Dusan Spasojevic, also a former secret service officer, and their close friend Mile Lukovic.

The police said that over 180 suspects they believe may either be involved in or have information about Djindjic's assassination have been rounded up. Some have asked for protected witness status and have provided important information about the perpetrators of the Djindjic killing, police said.

Djindjic, a reformist known internationally for his role in the overthrow and extradition of Slobodan Milosevic for war crimes in the former Yugoslavia, also encouraged a crackdown on organized crime since taking office in January 2001. Both efforts garnered him powerful enemies in Yugoslavia's often-entwined political and crime circles. Many came from the regime of Milosevic — in charge during the country's bloody break-up along ethnic lines during the 1990s — who were still in the current government.

"The criminals saw this discord as a chance to destabilize the new democratic authorities, hoping that at some new elections or a new revolution false patriots would come to the helm of this state again enabling them to do things they had been doing throughout a decade," Serbian Police Minister Dusan Mihajlovic said according to the Belgrade newspaper Blic Saturday.

Instead the opposite has happened, Mihajlovic asserted: "The army and its security service, which have been standing aside so far, have for the first time joined forces with police in investigations against organized crime and Djindjic's killers."

As the funeral was in progress, workers with two large bulldozers were continuing demolition of a complex of buildings in Zemun owned by clan leaders Spasojevic and Mile Lukovic and frequented by Legija. Officials said the owners had no building permits from the town authorities.

The complex comprises the ground floor and three upper stories of a "Market Center" which was never used for this purpose but served for accommodation and entertainment of the clan members and their guests. Solidly built, it showed little damage 24 hours after demolition started on Friday afternoon.


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