[an error occurred while processing this directive]
BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
Last Updated: Monday, 22 December, 2003, 16:33 GMT
Serbia tries PM murder suspects
A special new court has been opened in Belgrade
A special new court has been opened for the trial
The trial of 13 people charged with direct involvement in the assassination of Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic has begun in Belgrade.

The alleged gunman is in the dock, but the man believed to have masterminded the murder remains at large.

The trial is being held in a maximum security courtroom, with bulletproof glass protecting the dock.

Mr Djindjic, a pro-Western reformist, was killed in March by suspected gangsters with paramilitary links.

The trial was adjourned until Tuesday after lawyers for the defendants said they had not been given access to all documents and needed more time to prepare.

They demanded that the three judges and the prosecutor be taken off the case.

"The court treats us as enemies," Biljana Kajganic, who represents a suspect still on the run, told the Reuters news agency.

Mr Djindjic was getting out of his official car outside government buildings in Belgrade when he was shot on 12 March.

The alleged sniper, Zvezdan Jovanovic, is a former assistant commander of the elite special police unit, the Red Berets.

Mother in court

The unit's former commander, Milorad Lukovic - also known as Legija - is accused of masterminding the attack, but has not been captured and will be tried in his absence.

As well as the 13 people accused of direct involvement, more than 20 others are standing trial for their alleged role in a broader conspiracy dating back to the era of ousted leader Slobodan Milosevic, when paramilitary units were involved in shadowy activities.

Mr Djindjic's mother was present in court, sitting in the press gallery to avoid having to share the public gallery with the families of the accused.

Also present was a bodyguard wounded in the shooting .

The judge spoke of a "joint criminal enterprise" as he read out the charges against each man.

The BBC's Matthew Price, reporting from the court, says that wihile the assassination of Mr Djindjic is the focus of the trial, it is already clear that the prosecution hopes to expose a criminal underworld that has been allowed to thrive in Serbia.

Sympathy vote

The Serbian authorities believe Mr Djindjic's murder was part of a plot to overthrow the government, sparked partly by opposition to its co-operation with the war crimes tribunal in The Hague, and partly by fears of a clampdown on organised crime.

Legija's lawyer, Milan Vujin, said he had not been in contact with his client, one of the most powerful crimes bosses in the former Yugoslav republic.

"I prepare his defense on my own and with my associates. I am in contact with his family. His wife hired me," the lawyer told the Agence France Presse newspaper.

The murder trial started less than a week before parliamentary elections on 28 December.

The BBC's Gabriel Partos says Mr Djindjic's successors in the Democratic Party may be hoping that the case will help to provide them with a sympathy vote.

The BBC's Matthew Price
"Serbia's trial of the century"

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites


News Front Page | Africa | Americas | Asia-Pacific | Europe | Middle East | South Asia
UK | Business | Entertainment | Science/Nature | Technology | Health
Have Your Say | In Pictures | Week at a Glance | Country Profiles | In Depth | Programmes
Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific