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Serbia: Parliament Meets To Choose Djindjic Successor

  • Jolyon Naegele

Serbia's parliament is meeting today to appoint a successor to slain Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic. RFE/RL reports that Djindjic's apparent successor has no intention of reshuffling the government. (Editor's note: This story was filed before the Serbian parliament approved Zoran Zivkovic to be prime minister earlier today.)

Prague, 18 March 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Former Yugoslav Federal Interior Minister Zoran Zivkovic is the only candidate to succeed Zoran Djindjic, Serbia's prime minister, who was assassinated on 12 March. The Serbian parliament is expected to elect today both Zivkovic and Cedomir Jovanovic as his deputy prime minister.

Both men are leaders of the Democratic Party of the slain prime minister. Zivkovic was mayor of Serbia's third-largest city, Nis, and an outspoken opponent of former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic. One month after Milosevic was toppled from power in a bloodless popular rebellion in October 2000, Zivkovic was appointed federal interior minister. Jovanovic has headed the Democratic Opposition of Serbia (DOS) caucus in the Serbian parliament.

Zivkovic told parliament, which opened session at 10:00 this morning, that the government will proceed with the Western-backed reforms initiated by Djindjic. He also pledged to continue the war on organized crime. Although the vote is the only scheduled item on today's agenda, it remains uncertain when or even if it will be held today.

Zivkovic and Jovanovic, running unopposed, need a simple majority of 126 votes to be elected. In theory, they should have 127 lawmakers behind them, but it is far from clear whether they will secure all of these votes, which are taken by secret ballot.

The three main opposition parties -- former Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica's Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS), Milosevic's Socialist Party of Serbia, and Vojislav Seselj's Serbian Radical Party -- say they will vote against Zivkovic and Jovanovic.

The three parties are demanding an end to the state of emergency declared by Serbian President Natasa Micic following Djindjic's assassination. They allege the state of emergency could be misused for political purposes.

The three main opposition parties are also demanding a different government from the one that has run Serbia for the last two years -- something that runs counter to Zivkovic's pledge to retain the government in its present form. Kostunica, for example, advocates the formation of an interim government that would assemble all major forces to stabilize the situation and prepare the political and legal groundwork for early elections. In addition, the former Yugoslav president says such a government would play a key role in solving Djindjic's assassination, uprooting organized crime, and working out a new constitution.

Such a coalition, which Kostunica calls a "concentrated government," could bring him and DSS out of the political wilderness and return him to power. "A concentrated government would be the easiest way to achieve consensus," Kostunica said. "At the moment, it's too difficult a burden for anyone to bear on his own. This is not running away from responsibility; on the contrary, it is a very conscious acceptance of responsibility."

Kostunica lost his job as federal president last month with the dissolution of Yugoslavia and its replacement by a looser union, Serbia and Montenegro. His DSS, a founding member of the 18-party DOS, pulled out of the ruling coalition last year over policy and style differences between Kostunica and Djindjic.

But the Democratic Party, now chaired by Zivkovic, has rejected the notion of a broader coalition government. In an interview with our correspondent in Belgrade, Nebojsa Grabez, Zivkovic questioned whether Serbia would have anything to gain from such a compromise. "What do you get out of sitting with the same [party] caucuses that, through their actions and inaction, created instability for two years and culminated in the murder of our prime minister?" Zivkovic asked. "They created the atmosphere of a political lynching, which favored everything that was done by the previous [Milosevic] regime, all those who portrayed war crimes and other criminal activities as national patriotism. We cannot be in a coalition government that Serbia doesn't want us to be in."

Meanwhile, the hunt for Djindjic's killers continues. Zivkovic told parliament today that police have detained more than 750 people and are holding many of them in custody. They include pop singer Ceca -- Svetlana Raznatovic -- the widow of slain paramilitary commander Zeljko Raznatovic, also known as Arkan.

Police allege that Ceca had been in contact with alleged assassination mastermind Milorad Lukovic, a former special police commander and a top member of the Zemun organized crime ring. Ceca reportedly offered Lukovic shelter before and after Djindjic's assassination. Police searched Ceca's mansion and found what they describe as a large quantity of firearms, ammunition, night-vision optical equipment, telescopic gun sights, and silencers.

Lukovic and his top lieutenant, Dusan Spasojevic, remain at large. However, police yesterday arrested two Zemun clan leaders: Zoran "the Wolf" Vukojevic and Dragan "the Cheat" Ninkovic.

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