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Serbia Prepares for Three Days of Official Mourning - 2003-03-12

Serbia's government has asked the republic's president to declare a state of emergency after the assassination Wednesday of Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic in front of the government building.

Speaking to reporters after an emergency government meeting, Serbia's Deputy Prime Minister Nebojsa Covic said his cabinet had proposed "the imposition of a state of emergency on the whole territory of the Republic of Serbia."

Under Serbia's constitution, its temporary president, Natasha Micic, has the authority to decide whether to declare a state of emergency, which would give the civilian and military authorities extra powers.

Deputy Prime Minister Covic, who officials say is now the acting prime minister, made the request as security forces closed off the area around the government building in Belgrade, where 50-year-old Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic was shot twice. He died of his wounds a short time later in a local hospital.

Serbian media say all departing flights from Belgrade airport were suspended and armed police wearing flak jackets were searching cars in the center of the Serbian capital. Mr. Covic, said that with the assassination of Mr. Djindjic, "the constitutional order and the security of Serbia have been threatened."

The murder resembled the gangland style murders that marked the bloody era of former President Slobodan Milosevic, and commentators expressed concern that nationalist supporters of the former strongman were involved in the killings. Mr. Djindjic was often criticized for allowing the extradition of the former leader to the United Nations War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague.

There were also allegations that organized crime groups might have had the Prime Minister killed because of his efforts to crack down on crime syndicates.

After he survived an apparent assassination attempt last month, the prime minister said that even if he were killed, his reforms would continue.

Serbia's ruling coalition is made up of more than a dozen political groupings, with different political agendas. They have already clashed over the pace of reforms.

Mr. Djindjic repeatedly feuded with Mr. Milosevic's successor, the more cautious former Yugoslav president, Vojislav Kostunica, who wanted slower and less painful social changes.

There is also concern that Mr. Djindjic's death will fuel nationalism in Kosovo and Bosnia, and could even increase support for alleged war criminals in the region, such as former Bosnian Serb President Radovan Karadzic.

The assassination could not have come at a worse moment for Serbia. It recently created a new country with tiny Montenegro to replace the bloodstained, and nearly completely disintegrated, Yugoslavia, in an effort to achieve some kind of stability.