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Political Tensions in Yugoslavia Rise After Politican's Suicide Attempt - 2002-04-12

Political tensions are rising in Yugoslavia, a day after a former Serbian interior minister suspected of war crimes shot himself in the head. Doctors warn that he may not survive his wounds. The party of ousted President Slobodan Milosevic is accusing the Yugoslav leadership of forcing Vlajko Stojiljkovic into a dramatic suicide attempt late Thursday.

As former Serbian Interior Minister Vlajko Stojiljkovic was still fighting for his life Friday in a Belgrade hospital, nationalists said they had no doubts as to why the politician shot himself in the head on the steps of the federal parliament building late Thursday.

The Socialist Party of ousted Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic pointed to a law on the extradition of suspects to the United Nations war crimes tribunal in The Hague, which was adopted by the federal parliament only hours before the suicide attempt.

Mr. Stojiljkovic was high on a list of about 20 war crimes suspects, as he was accused of responsibility for mass killings and expulsions of ethnic Albanians in Kosovo province during Mr. Milosevic's rule.

However Mr. Milosevic's Party said that the former minister was the "first victim" of legislation which, it warned, would legalize the hunt for "Serb patriots and heroes of the war against NATO aggressors."

Both the former president and his supporters have argued most victims in Kosovo were the result of 78 days of NATO bombardments against Serb forces in the troubled region.

United Nations prosecutors and investigators strongly deny those accusations. However, Socialist party official and former Serbian Prime Minister Mirko Marjanovic said that the suicide attempt was not an effort to evade responsibility, but an "act of a hero who does not allow himself to be tried by enemies he fought when NATO" attacked Yugoslavia.

In his suicide note, Mr. Stojiljkovic reflected that sentiment. He also singled out Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djinjdic, Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica, and other members of the coalition whom he said were destroying Yugoslavia with "the assistance of our greatest foreign enemy."

The latest development appeared to have led to new tensions between President Kostunica, a moderate nationalist, and the pro- Western Serbian Prime Minister Djindjic.

Mr. Kostunica called the suicide attempt a warning to the international community," which he said "constantly sets conditions" and "dictates behavior." This is an apparent reference to the United States, which has linked millions of dollars to cooperation with the U.N. Tribunal. Forty million dollars of U.S. aid was frozen after Yugoslavia failed to meet a March 31 deadline to transfer suspects to The Hague.

However, Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic has said he expects the first extraditions within three weeks. Former Minister Stojiljkovic, fomer Yugoslav deputy premier Nikola Sainovic and former army chief of staff Dragoljub Ojdanic were widely seen as the most likely candidates for early hand-overs.

However medical doctors said Friday it is unlikely that Mr. Stojilkovic will survive his head wounds and that he was still in a very deep coma.