Serbian Prime Minister Shot Dead in Belgrade

BELGRADE, Serbia-Montenegro -- Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic -- a key leader of the revolt that toppled former President Slobodan Milosevic in October 2000 -- was assassinated Wednesday by gunmen who ambushed him outside the government complex, police sources said.

Djindjic died of his wounds in a Belgrade hospital after having been shot in the abdomen and back, the sources said. Sources from Djindjic's Cabinet said earlier that Djindjic sustained two shots in his stomach and back, and that doctors had been "fighting for his life" in an emergency hospital blocked by a large number of police officers.

Two people were arrested and one injured in the shooting, witnesses said.

Acting Serbian President Natasa Micic declared a state of emergency, under which some civil rights can be curtailed and the army takes over police functions.

The government building where Djindjic was ambushed was sealed off by heavy state security. Police stopped traffic in downtown Belgrade, searching through cars and checking passengers.

Djindjic, 50, appeared to have been targeted Feb. 21, when a truck suddenly cut into the lane in which his motorcade was traveling to Belgrade's airport. The motorcade narrowly avoided a collision, and Djindjic dismissed the alleged assassination attempt as a "futile effort" that could not stop democratic reforms.

"If someone thinks the law and the reforms can be stopped by eliminating me, then that is a huge delusion," Djindjic was quoted as saying by the Politika newspaper at the time.

Djindjic, who spearheaded the popular revolt that toppled Milosevic in October 2000, had many enemies because of his pro-reformist and Western stands.

Djindjic saw Serbia's fate as linked to the West and favored greater cooperation with the UN war crimes tribunal in the Hague, Netherlands, where Milosevic now is standing trial on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity.

He was pivotal in arresting and handing Milosevic to the war crimes tribunal in June 2001 and was blasted by Serbian nationalists, including his former ally Vojislav Kostunica, who stepped down as Yugoslav president earlier this month.

Djindjic's feud with Kostunica since the two jointly toppled Milosevic had virtually paralyzed the country's much-needed economic and social reforms.

Djindjic was often criticized by his opponents for seeking too much power and for "mercilessly" combating his political rivals. A German-educated technocrat known to supporters as "The Manager" for his organizational skills and as "Little Slobo" to his detractors for his authoritarian tendencies, Djindjic nonetheless managed to gain some political capital from his willingness to surrender Milosevic despite a constitutional ban on extraditing Serbian citizens.

Though derided for his fondness for big cars and flashy suits, Djindjic's trade of Milosevic for $1.2 billion in international economic aid appeared to have won respect from people desperate to improve a living standard that ranks among the lowest in Europe.