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Posted on 05/24/2007 6:44:28 AM PDT by Valin

Belgrade, 24 May (AKI) - The conviction of 12 people for the murder of prime minister Zoran Djindic in March 2003, was seen by Serbian politicians across the political spectrum on Thursday as a victory of justice and a proof of the judiciary's independence. After a three and a half year trial, a special court in Belgrade Wednesday sentenced 12 former members of a special police unit 'Red berets' and members of the so called Zemun criminal gang, headed by Milorad Ulemek Legija and Zvezdan Jovanovic, to maximum sentences of between 35 and 40 years in jail each for a total of 378 years.

"Such a verdict is a great contribution to the reform of our judiciary system," said president Boris Tadic, who took over the reins of Djindjic's Democratic Party (DS) after his death. But Serbia must "continue further substantial reforms of police, army and security services" to prevent similar occurrences in the future, he added.

Prime minister Vojislav Kostunica, who formed a governing coalition with Tadic this month, based on January 21 elections, said that "the murder of premier Djindjic represented a very heavy blow to Serbia". But "justice has been done and the verdict implies that the state and the hand of justice would reach all who committed a crime", Kostunica underlined.

Djindjic's widow Ruzica, now a high official of the Democratic Party, said that "the perpetrators of this crime have received the penalties they deserve." She expressed satisfaction that the court had resisted all kinds of pressure and proved that it could function independently.

But many politicians, from left and right, and analysts complained that the court has failed to unveil the real motives and political implications of the murder which has, according to general belief, slowed down Serbia's reforms and its drive towards joining the European Union.

Vladimir Beba Popovic and Cedomir Jovanovic, two of Djindjic's closest aides and vehement opponents of Kostunica, have blamed the current prime minister for having created the heated atmosphere which led to Djindjic's murder.

Kostunica and Djindjic were allies in toppling former president Slobodan Milosevic in a popular revolt in October 2000, but later became bitter opponents. They split over Serbia's cooperation with the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia and the forcible extradition of individuals indicted for war crimes in last decade Balkan wars to the Tribunal. Kostunica advocated voluntary surrender of the indictees and has in the meantime managed to extradite to the Hague all but six remaining fugitives.

The leader of the right wing Serbian Radical Party, Tomislav Nikolic, like his Socialist colleague Ivica Dacic, agreed that justice has been done, but expressed regrets that the background and real motives of the murder remained a mystery.

Popovic said he was sorry that Serbia had abolished death penalty, "because death would be the only real penalty to Djindjic's killers".

TOPICS: Foreign Affairs
KEYWORDS: assassination; balkans; coverup; djindjic; justiceatlast; milosevic; paramilitaries; serbia; warcriminals

1 posted on 05/24/2007 6:44:31 AM PDT by Valin
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