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Serbs propose leader quickly

The day after assassinated Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic is laid to rest, his party nominates a replacement in an attempt to pluck stability from the grasp of turmoil.

©Associated Press

March 17, 2003

BELGRADE, Serbia-Montenegro -- Serbia's Democratic Party moved quickly to replace slain Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic on Sunday, hoping to keep his assassination from plunging the country into new turmoil.

The Democratic Party nominated Djindjic deputy Zoran Zivkovic their candidate to replace him. Zivkovic promised to uphold Djindjic's policies, which included standing close with the West and cracking down on crime and corruption.

"There is no dilemma for us," said Zivkovic, who becomes acting party leader. "Djindjic has shown us the way on virtually every issue."

Party leaders met in Belgrade's Sava Center, where a photo of Djindjic stood in a central spot of the conference hall. They opened the meeting with a moment of silence.

The party met a day after Djindjic, its undisputed and popular leader, was buried. The session was scheduled so soon after the funeral in an apparent attempt to close ranks and try to maintain stability in troubled Serbia.

Djindjic, an ally of the West who was instrumental in toppling former President Slobodan Milosevic in 2000, was shot by a sniper Wednesday in front of Serbian government headquarters.

He had pushed hard for Milosevic's handover to the U.N. war crimes tribunal in The Hague, Netherlands, in 2001. That, along with his pro-Western stance and a recent declaration of war on organized crime and corruption, made him many enemies.

Zivkovic must be approved by Serbia's Parliament, where Djindjic's reformist bloc holds more than half of the 250 seats.

Investigators have accused an underworld clan linked to Milosevic's allies of killing Djindjic. Officials say 181 people have been arrested, including prominent gang member Mladjan Micic, also known as Pacov, or Rat.

The key bosses of the clan, including former paramilitary commander Milorad Lukovic-Legija, remain at large even though the search has spread beyond Serbia's borders.

On Saturday, police in neighboring Bosnia raided a construction company in Pale, a village near the capital Sarajevo, looking for information about Djindjic's killers.

Authorities declared a nationwide state of emergency after Djindjic's assassination, meaning suspects can be arrested without warrants and detained for up to 30 days without charges.

Authorities said the criminal groups that flourished under Milosevic and during the Balkan wars of the 1990s might have joined forces to stop Djindjic's efforts to battle crime and bring war crimes suspects to justice.

About 500,000 people marched through the streets of Belgrade on Saturday behind Djindjic's casket, many carrying candles and placing flowers along the path.

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