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Profile: Slain Serbian President Djindjic A Key Leader in Anti-Milosevic Uprising - 2003-03-13

The son of a Yugoslav army officer, Zoran Djindjic was born in 1952 in Bosnia. A dissident even in Tito's Yugoslavia, after graduating from university in Belgrade he departed for West Germany to continue his education. There he studied philosophy and was drawn to Herbert Marcuse, the radical professor who had a cult following among leftist students worldwide.

Returning to Belgrade, Mr. Djindjic in 1989 was a founder of the anti-Milosevic Democratic Party. He gained prominence in 1996 when along with Vuk Draskovic and Vesna Pesic, he led nearly three months of street demonstrations protesting the government's annulment of municipal elections won by the anti-Milosevic opposition. When partial victory was achieved in 1997, Mr. Djindjic as mayor of Belgrade removed the red communist star which until then adorned the city hall tower.

In October 2000 the charismatic Mr. Djindjic with his trademark leather jacket was the key leader in the popular uprising that stormed the Yugoslav parliament and forced the resignation of Mr. Milosevic, who had ruled Serbia with an iron hand for nearly a dozen years. The Democratic Opposition of Serbia coalition, which he headed, swept to victory in parliamentary elections in January, 2001 and Mr. Djindjic became prime minister. Initially he had a good working relationship with Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica. More recently the two reformers became bitter political rivals.

In Washington, Wednesday, Radek Sikorski, a Polish politician who heads the New Atlantic Initiative, opened a meeting with a remembrance of Mr. Djindjic. He emphasized the Serbian leader's courage in April 2001 when he defied public opinion and sent Slobodan Milosevic to the Hague war crimes tribunal. Mr. Sikorski recalled Mr. Djindjic's remarks in Washington less than a year ago.

"Prime Minister Djindjic warned that without help from the United States and Europe the Serb government would be hard pressed to continue reforms. Well, I'm afraid his warning has become all too real," he said. "People who do not wish Serbia to join the family of democratic nations have now killed him. And we extend our condolences to the people of Serbia, to his family, for this great loss of a sincere democrat and a true leader."

Having pursued a reform program judged by the World Bank to be the most rigorous pursued anywhere in post-communist Europe, Mr. Djindjic had recently turned his attention to fighting the organized crime that pervades Serbian society. He had many enemies, particularly within Belgrade's rival mafia clans. He was nearly killed three weeks ago when a vehicle careened into his motorcade, an event generally regarded as a failed assassination attempt.

Mr. Djindjic, who was using crutches because of a recent sports injury, leaves behind a wife and two children.