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Coup was goal of Serb assassination, officials say

By Times wire services
Published April 9, 2003

BELGRADE, Serbia-Montenegro - The assassination of Serbia's prime minister was orchestrated by a shadowy group that wanted to replace the pro-Western government with allies of Slobodan Milosevic, investigators said Tuesday.

The group behind Zoran Djindjic's March 12 killing, called the "Hague Brotherhood," hoped the assassination would create widespread chaos and planned to follow with a coup against Serbia's government, the officials told the Associated Press.

But Djindjic's Democratic Party quickly named a successor after his death and police cracked down hard, arresting 7,000 people, effectively spoiling the plan. The assassins also might have been caught off-guard by the huge public outpouring of grief over Djindjic's death - nearly 1-million people attended his funeral.

Police believe a feared paramilitary group known as the Unit for Special Operations, formed during Milosevic's rule, played a large role in the Hague Brotherhood. Its deputy commander, Zvezdan Jovanovic, was arrested soon after Djindjic's slaying on suspicion of being the assassin.

At least four plans to kill Djindjic failed on the eve of his slaying in downtown Belgrade, the officials said. One plan included firing antitank rockets at his armored car.

The investigation into Djindjic's death led police to the body of another Milosevic foe, Serbian President Ivan Stambolic, who was slain in 2000. His death also has been blamed on Milosevic's allies.

More than 2,000 people remain in custody in the Djindjic investigation and face charges.

Hamas leader, 6 others killed in first Israeli air attack since war

JERUSALEM - An Israeli F-16 fighter jet fired missiles into a crowded Gaza neighborhood Tuesday night, killing seven Palestinians and injuring dozens more, in the first air attack on Palestinian territory since the war in Iraq began.

A senior Hamas leader, Saad Arabid, 35, was the apparent target of the strike and was killed. Five passers-by, including two teenagers, also were killed and doctors said as many as 47 Palestinians, including 22 younger than 18, were hurt.

Arabid, who rose in prominence as other top Hamas leaders were killed by Israeli strikes in recent months, established a network for producing Qassam rockets and explosives used in Hamas terror attacks, security sources said.

The air strike was the first since the U.S.-led war in Iraq began. For the past three weeks, Israel has noticeably scaled back its military operations and strikes in the West Bank and Gaza.

The army has, however, embarked on roundups of Palestinian men in the West Bank and Gaza in an effort to quell terrorist attacks and question suspected militants.

Bush pledges support to finding peace in Northern Ireland

HILLSBOROUGH, Northern Ireland - President Bush on Tuesday gave the Northern Ireland peace process a boost at a timely moment in the province's struggle to achieve longterm stability, pledging to help local leaders take "the final steps toward a lasting peace."

Standing alongside Prime Minister Tony Blair at a news conference otherwise dominated by Iraq, Bush addressed a separate plea to the province's politicians. "This is an historic moment," he said, "and I would ask all the communities in Northern Ireland to seize this opportunity for peace."

The leaders face a critical decision on Thursday, the fifth anniversary of the signing of the accord, when they will receive a final blueprint for re-establishing the home rule government that is the centerpiece of the effort to balance power between the Protestant majority and the Catholic minority.

It is hoped that the document, distilled from 30 hours of meetings here last month with Blair and Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern, will induce the Irish Republican Army to make a long-awaited move to give up its weapons and declare an end to its war with the British and the Protestant population of Ulster.

Bush, Blair and Ahern met with the heads of Northern Ireland's political parties Tuesday afternoon and issued a joint statement afterwards addressing the urgency of a so-called "act of completion."

"There is no place in Northern Ireland for paramilitary activity and capability," the three national leaders said.

Congo, U.N. to probe slayings

BUNIA, Congo - The Congolese government and the United Nations have agreed to begin joint investigations into the killing of nearly 1,000 people in northeastern Congo, a senior government official said Tuesday.

[Last modified April 18, 2003, 13:36:43]