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Crime gang blamed for PM killing

Djindjic, seen with daughter Jovana, did not wear a bullet-proof vest.
Djindjic, seen with daughter Jovana, did not wear a bullet-proof vest.

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Can Serbia's reforms continue after assassination of prime minister?


BELGRADE, Serbia (CNN) -- Serbia's government says the assassination of Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic was carried out by members of an organized crime group.

"This criminal act is a clear attempt to put an end to the development and democratization of Serbia and plunge it into isolation once again and was carried out by those who have been trying over the past few years to do so through various murders and assassinations," the government said in an official statement.

Officials are speculating that the shooting could be linked to a crime wave in the country and the government's efforts to stamp out organized crime.

The government is blaming a criminal group called the Zemun clan, named after a Belgrade municipality, for the killing but made no mention of arrests, although local media said two or three people had been held, Reuters reports.

"The murder ... represents an attempt by this criminal clan to cause chaos, lawlessness and fear in the country," the government said.

The government declared a state of emergency soon after the assassination, handing control of security to the Serbian military.

"The government will do everything in its power to protect peace and democracy in Serbia," the statement said.

Serbia was in shock Wednesday after the assassination of Djindjic, who played a key role in the overthrow of Slobodan Milosevic and personified the country's postwar future.

Djindic, 50, was hit by two bullets in the stomach and chest outside the main government building in Belgrade. The married father-of-three was taken to hospital but doctors were unable to save him.

The government said "the method in which the assassination was carried out is known," but it did not elaborate.

Another person was wounded in the shooting at about 12:25 p.m. (1125 GMT), police said. The shots came from a distance, suggesting a sniper pulled the trigger.

Police, on the hunt for the perpetrators, were stopping cars and searching them. Belgrade's airport had been closed for departures; only arrivals were allowed, but it was expected to be fully opened soon.

Three unidentified people were arrested but it was unclear what their role may be in connection with the incident, police sources said.

Police officers in front of the federal parliament after the killing.
Police officers in front of the federal parliament after the killing.

Djindjic's assassination was announced as the government met in an emergency session, and participants held a moment of silence. The government has declared three days of state mourning from Thursday to Saturday

A senior official of Serbia's ruling coalition said the government, which confirmed Djindjic's death, had appointed Deputy Prime Minister Nebojsa Covic as acting prime minister, Reuters reported.

Covic appeared on television and said: "The assassination of the prime minister of Serbia, Zoran Djindjic, was a criminal act by those who want to disrupt reforms in Serbia."

Djindjic spearheaded the removal in 2000 of ex-Yugoslav leader Milosevic, who is now on trial at the U.N. war crimes tribunal at The Hague for his actions during the Balkan wars of the 1990s.

The prime minister put himself out on a limb to meet Western demands for aid by handing over other war criminals to the Hague. His reformist pro-Western stance drew a lot of opposition from many Serbian nationalists -- including his former ally Vojislav Kostunica, who stepped down as Yugoslav president earlier this month after the formation of a new state, Serbia and Montenegro.

Djindjic's feud with Kostunica since the two jointly toppled Milosevic had virtually paralyzed the country's much-needed economic and social reforms.

Police guard Ruzica Djindic as she leaves hospital where her husband was taken.
Police guard Ruzica Djindic as she leaves hospital where her husband was taken.

Kostunica told B-92 radio Wednesday that while he disagreed with Djindjic on many issues, the assassination was "awful ... this shows how little we have done to democratize society." He called the killing "a warning to look ourselves in the eye and ask how much crime has permeated all the pores of society."

Belgrade residents, recalling their controversial former mayor, and people throughout the Serbia were in a "state of shock" after hearing the news.

CNN Chief International Correspondent Christiane Amanpour called the assassination "a very, very severe blow to all those in the international community trying to engage with Serbia." (Courageous reformer)

Dragana Nikolic of the Institute for War and Peace Reporting called Djindjic, who held a doctorate in philosophy, a "modern politician" and an "educated man."

She said the Serbian government must take decisive steps in the next 48 hours to respond to the situation and "real action" must be taken against organized crime.

World leaders immediately expressed their outrage to the killing.

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said U.S. President George W. Bush "expresses his condolences to the people of Serbia." (World outrage)

"Prime Minister Djindjic will be remembered for his role in bringing democracy to Serbia and for his role in bringing Slobodan Milosevic to justice," Fleischer said.

Serbia, which has a population of 10.5 million, is one of the two republics in the nation of Serbia and Montenegro, previously called Yugoslavia. They had been the only two republics remaining in Yugoslavia after the six-member socialist federation collapsed in the 1990s.

Yugoslavia -- first formed in 1918 -- started unraveling along ethnic lines in the early 1990s. Slovenia, Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina seceded in a series of ethnic wars, while Macedonia separated peacefully, leaving only Serbia and Montenegro together. The name was officially changed from Yugoslavia last month.

-- Chief International Correspondent Christiane Amanpour and Journalists Natasa Jovanovic and Dusan Radulovic contributed to this report

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