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Thousands pay tribute to Serbian PM on anniversary of his killing

   BELGRADE, March 13, 2008 – Thousands paid tribute Wednesday to
Serbia’s reformist prime minister Zoran Djindjic five years after he was
killed by a sniper’s bullet.
   The anniversary came with Serbia embroiled in political crisis following
the unilateral declaration of independence by its province of Kosovo. The
government has collapsed under the pressure of losing the province, and the
decision of many EU nations to recognise the move has angered many Serbs.
   Serbian President Boris Tadic joined Djindjic’s widow Ruzica and other
family members at a Belgrade cemetery to lay flowers and light candles at his
   Outgoing Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica placed a wreath at the entrance
of the Serbian government building where Djindjic was shot by a sniper on
March 12, 2003.
   Djindjic’s closest associates, including Zoran Zivkovic, who succeeded him
as prime minister, also laid wreaths and lit candles at the site of the
assassination, followed by thousands of citizens.
   Separately, several thousand people marched in silence along central
Belgrade streets to the cemetery, wearing Djindjic photographs and carrying a
huge 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 the
   The same sentence was given to Zvezdan Jovanovic, the man accused of
pulling the trigger.
   The assassination shocked Serbia, and hundreds of thousands of people
turned out to Djindjic’s funeral.
   Djindjic was the first democratic prime minister of Serbia to take office
after the ouster of Slobodan Milosevic’s autocratic regime.
   His decision to hand over Milosevic and other suspects to The Hague-based
UN war crimes tribunal to stand trial for his role in the Balkans wars in the
1990s was considered a key motive for the plot to kill him, as was his plan to
fight organised crime.
   The assassination date coincided with the birthday of a top war crimes
fugitive, Bosnian Serb wartime military chief Ratko Mladic, wanted for
genocide committed during the 1992-1995 war in Bosnia.
   On Wednesday, posters hung on a wall at the cemetery reading: "Happy
birthday, General! Thank you for keeping us away from European integration."
   Djindjic is remembered for returning the country to the international fold
after a decade of isolation, leading it rapidly towards European Union
   Five years later, nationalist Kostunica and pro-Western Tadic have split
over Serbia’s European future.
   Kostunica, backed by ultra-nationalist radicals, vowed to stop further
integration until the EU rejects Kosovo’s separation.
   Tadic, however, insists that Belgrade has no alternative than to become an
EU member as soon as possible, regardless of the dispute over Kosovo.
   Incapable of overcoming the rift, Kostunica on Monday formally asked Tadic
to dissolve parliament and call early elections for May 11. The president was
expected 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 to
integration with Europe and Western institutions … The other path is an
angry retreat to a brooding past …," the embassy said in a statement.
   In a joint homage to Djindjic, published in the daily Blic and several
European newspapers, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner and his Swedish
colleague Carl Bildt pledged to help Serbia reach EU membership.
   "We want Serbia to be given official EU candidate country status as soon as
possible, and are prepared to help Serbia to move towards accession, proud of
its 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."