Thousands pay tribute to Serbian PM on anniversary of his killing
BELGRADE, March 13, 2008 - Thousands paid tribute Wednesday toSerbia's reformist prime minister Zoran Djindjic five years after he waskilled by a sniper's bullet. The anniversary came with Serbia embroiled in political crisis followingthe unilateral declaration of independence by its province of Kosovo. Thegovernment has collapsed under the pressure of losing the province, and thedecision of many EU nations to recognise the move has angered many Serbs. Serbian President Boris Tadic joined Djindjic's widow Ruzica and otherfamily members at a Belgrade cemetery to lay flowers and light candles at hisgrave. Outgoing Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica placed a wreath at the entranceof the Serbian government building where Djindjic was shot by a sniper onMarch 12, 2003. Djindjic's closest associates, including Zoran Zivkovic, who succeeded himas prime minister, also laid wreaths and lit candles at the site of theassassination, followed by thousands of citizens. Separately, several thousand people marched in silence along centralBelgrade streets to the cemetery, wearing Djindjic photographs and carrying ahuge banner reading "Serbia must not stop." A former commander of the notorious elite Red Berets police unit, Milorad"Legija" Ulemek, was sentenced to 40 years in jail for having masterminded theassassination. The same sentence was given to Zvezdan Jovanovic, the man accused ofpulling the trigger. The assassination shocked Serbia, and hundreds of thousands of peopleturned out to Djindjic's funeral. Djindjic was the first democratic prime minister of Serbia to take officeafter the ouster of Slobodan Milosevic's autocratic regime. His decision to hand over Milosevic and other suspects to The Hague-basedUN war crimes tribunal to stand trial for his role in the Balkans wars in the1990s was considered a key motive for the plot to kill him, as was his plan tofight organised crime. The assassination date coincided with the birthday of a top war crimesfugitive, Bosnian Serb wartime military chief Ratko Mladic, wanted forgenocide committed during the 1992-1995 war in Bosnia. On Wednesday, posters hung on a wall at the cemetery reading: "Happybirthday, General! Thank you for keeping us away from European integration." Djindjic is remembered for returning the country to the international foldafter a decade of isolation, leading it rapidly towards European Unionintegration. Five years later, nationalist Kostunica and pro-Western Tadic have splitover Serbia's European future. Kostunica, backed by ultra-nationalist radicals, vowed to stop furtherintegration until the EU rejects Kosovo's separation. Tadic, however, insists that Belgrade has no alternative than to become anEU member as soon as possible, regardless of the dispute over Kosovo. Incapable of overcoming the rift, Kostunica on Monday formally asked Tadicto dissolve parliament and call early elections for May 11. The president wasexpected to accept the demand and do so on Thursday. The US embassy in Belgrade said that "five years after his tragic murder,Prime Minister Djindjic's vision is not fully achieved." "Serbia is again at a crossroads. One path -- Djindjic's path -- leads tointegration with Europe and Western institutions ... The other path is anangry retreat to a brooding past ...," the embassy said in a statement. In a joint homage to Djindjic, published in the daily Blic and severalEuropean newspapers, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner and his Swedishcolleague Carl Bildt pledged to help Serbia reach EU membership. "We want Serbia to be given official EU candidate country status as soon aspossible, and are prepared to help Serbia to move towards accession, proud ofits history and focused on the future," Kouchner and Bildt wrote. "Let us work together, hand in hand, to turn Zoran Djindjic's hope into reality."