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Serbian Premier assassinated

Belgrade, March 12 (Reuters): Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic, who played a key role in ousting Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, was assassinated today, gunned down outside Belgrade’s main government building.

Acting Serbian president Natasa Micic declared a state of emergency today. The Serbian government proposed the measure, under which some civil rights can be curtailed and the army takes over police functions, at an emergency meeting earlier in the day.

Djindjic, 50, who took the decision to send Milosevic to the UN war crimes tribunal in The Hague in 2001, narrowly escaped injury last month when a truck swerved towards his convoy of cars. He had then said that organised crime was behind the incident.

“The Prime Minister died from his wounds at 1230 GMT at Belgrade emergency centre,” deputy Prime Minister Nebojsa Covic said in a statement. A police source said Djindjic died after he was shot in the chest by two large calibre sniper bullets fired from a distance. Local B92 radio said he was shot in the back and the stomach.

B92 said two people had been arrested in connection with the shooting and Beta news agency reported three people were detained. There was no immediate official confirmation of the reports.

All departing flights from Belgrade airport were suspended and armed police wearing flak jackets searched cars in central Belgrade, local media reported.

Organised crime flourished during Milosevic’s rule in the 1990s and Djindjic had pledged to stamp it out.

Milosevic is now facing trial for genocide and crimes against humanity during the wars which tore Yugoslavia apart. Djindjic is the most senior politician to be killed in a series of murders of public figures in former Yugoslavia in the past three years in a region where revenge killings and vendettas are often rife.

In first reactions to the assassination, the EU condemned the killing and praised the reformist leader’s efforts to put his Balkan country on the path to EU membership.

“It is a tragedy. He was a personal friend and a friend of Europe,” said EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana, clearly shaken by the news.

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

Serbia has been through a difficult period and this assassination will slow down its progress towards democracy,” he told reporters.

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

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