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8 charged over Serbia paramilitary protest

Associated Press

BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) – A Serbian prosecutor on Friday charged eight former paramilitary troops with organizing the rebellion against the pro-Western government in 2001 that weakened then-Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic and set the stage for his assassination two years later.

The group includes the mastermind and the hitman of the March 2003 assassination, who are already serving 40-year prison terms, prosecutor Miljko Radisavljevic said.

The former troops are accused of organizing the “armed rebellion” in November 2001, when members of the Unit for Special Operations blocked roads with their armored vehicles and disobeyed their superiors, demanding replacement of key security officials.

The protest lasted for several days and seriously undermined Serbia’s democratic government led by Djindjic, which came to power after former autocrat Slobodan Milosevic was ousted in a popular uprising in October 2000.

Djindjic did not have the support of the military. As a result of the rebellion, he was forced to replace the head of the state security and his deputy.

The Unit for Special Operations was formed by Milosevic and fought in the wars in Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo in the 1990s, spreading fear among the non-Serbs. Its ability to force concessions by Djindjic exposed government weaknesses and was as a prelude to the premier’s killing, Radisavljevic said.

“It was easy later to go against the prime minister himself,” Radisavljevic said.

The former troops accused Friday also are charged with endangering the constitutional order and security, Radisavljevic added.

So far, more than a dozen former paramilitary troops and criminals have been convicted and sentenced for Djindjic’s assassination. Prosecutors have promised to investigate who their political mentors were, but no one has been charged so far.

Djindjic was Serbia’s first reformist premier since World War II, and he wanted to bring the country closer to the West after years of wars and sanctions under Milosevic. He also played a key role in handing over Milosevic to a U.N. war crimes tribunal to face a genocide trial for his role in the Balkan wars of the 1990s.

Milosevic died in custody of the court in The Hague, Netherlands, in 2006.

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