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Djindjic Assassination Trial Opens in Serbia - 2003-12-22


The trial of 36 suspects in the assassination of Serbia's prime minister earlier this year has opened in Belgrade. The security was tight.

Twenty-one suspects, all reputed gangsters or members of an elite police unit, appeared behind bullet-proof glass in a new courtroom in Belgrade. Another 15 are being tried in absentia. They all are charged with forming what the prosecutors call a criminal enterprise to kill Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic and topple his pro-Western government.

Among them is former Special Forces commander Zvezdan Jovanovic, who has been accused of pulling the trigger of the gun that killed Mr. Djinjic on March 12. The assassination touched off massive arrests of suspected underground figures. Tried in absentia is ex-special forces chief, Milorad Lukovic, who allegedly masterminded the assassination.

Chief prosecutor Djordje Ostojic said he has substantial evidence to convict the defendants.

Mr. Djindjic, who became prime minister following the ouster of Slobodan Milosevic in 2000, reportedly fell out of favor with Serbia's crime gangs, and narrowly survived at least one previous attempt on his life before he was killed by a sniper's bullet.

Mr. Djindjic also infuriated the country's nationalists by handing over Mr. Milosevic to the U.N. War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague.

Chief prosecutor Ostojic has warned a failure to prosecute the suspects successfully could, in his view, "destabilize" Serbia.

The trial, in which hundreds of lawyers appear for the defense, may last a year or longer.