Belgrade, March 14 (Reuters): The party of slain Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic is expected to nominate one of his senior allies, former Yugoslav interior minister Zoran Zivkovic, to the post, a party source and local media said today.
With police hunting for the crime bosses they say were behind Wednesday’s killing, such a move would signal the ruling coalition’s determination to continue Western-backed economic and political reform spearheaded by Djindjic, 50.
The board of Djindjic’s Democratic Party, the largest in the ruling coalition, is expected to name a Prime Minister-designate on Sunday, a day after his funeral.
Zivkovic, 42, a deputy leader of the party, had been expected to become defence minister in the new loose union of Serbia and Montenegro, which replaced the old Yugoslavia last month.
A party source said he was the likely name. The daily Glas Javnosti said it had learned that he was the only candidate as the party's new leader and as new Prime Minister.
The Serbian parliament must approve any nomination.
Analysts have expressed fears that Djindjic's murder, which sent shock waves across the Balkans and alarmed Western leaders, would lead to political instability and hurt efforts to build a Western-style democracy after the ouster of Slobodan Milosevic.
The death of Djindjic, who played a key role in toppling the then Yugoslav president in 2000 after a decade of wars and Western isolation, left Serbia with neither a prime minister nor elected president since two votes failed due to a low turnout.
Another presidential poll is not due for several months.
”It is a huge set-back. There is definitely a power vacuum,” said Marcus Cox of the European Stability Initiative think tank. ”An unstable Serbia threatens the stability of south-eastern Europe.”
MLADIC ARREST LESS LIKELY'
Cox said it would also make it more difficult for the authorities to arrest key war crimes suspects like ex-Bosnian Serb military chief and genocide suspect Ratko Mladic, as the United States and the UN war crimes court have demanded.
”You need a strong government to carry out arrests effectively,” he said. “The assassination of Djindjic may force the international community to re-think the timetable for these arrests.”
It was Djindjic who sent Milosevic to the war crimes tribunal in The Hague to face charges of genocide and crimes against humanity linked to the wars in Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo. The decision enraged Serbian nationalists.
”He delivered Milosevic and paid a high price politically,” said a Western diplomat in Belgrade.
Government officials have vowed to push on with crucial economic reforms and crush the powerful organised crime gangs that flourished during Milosevic's bloodstained rule.
Police swept through the underworld in their hunt for Djindjic killers, arresting 56 people, including eight key members of a criminal group it said was behind the killing.
But the government said on Thursday police were still looking for the three leaders of the so-called Zemun gang.
Among those still at large was Milorad Lukovic, a former head of the“Red Berets” Ä a battle-hardened special police unit which fought in the wars in Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo.
It also confirmed media reports that police had brought in two Milosevic-era state security chiefs, Jovica Stanisic and Franko Simatovic, for questioning in relation to the murder.
A defence ministry official said the army had tightened border controls and raised the combat readiness of some units.
The Western diplomat said he believed the West would welcome Zivkovic's nomination but that Djindjic, who had come out in top in a power struggle with one-time ally and former Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica, would be a hard act to follow.
”Nobody has his energy, charisma, know-how, cunning,” he said.