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Wednesday, July 28, 1999 Published at 14:21 GMT 15:21 UK

World: Europe

Serb opposition leader in court

Zoran Djindjic was met at the court by scores of journalists and supporters

Serbian opposition leader Zoran Djindjic has appeared before a military tribunal accused of dodging the draft during the conflict with Nato.

Correspondents says the case could signal how far Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic is willing to go in suppressing his opponents.

Kosovo: Special Report
Zoran Djindjic,

At the time of his call-up, Mr Djindjic - leader of the opposition group Alliance For Change - was in Montenegro, Serbia's smaller partner in the Yugoslav federation.

"This trial has no sense and no basis, both legally and morally," Mr Djindjic told journalists before entering the court, accompanied by two lawyers.

He denied the charges. A request by the military prosecutor to put him in preventative custody until the full trial was turned down by the magistrate.

About 100 journalists and several dozen supporters gathered in front of the court to attend the hearing, but it was closed to the public.

Dodging the draft is a serious offence in Serbia. If convicted, Mr Djindjic could face up to 20 years in prison because the country was in a state of war at the time of his alleged crime.

[ image: The military court hearing was closed to the public]
The military court hearing was closed to the public
One of his associates has already been sentenced in his absence to two years in prison on a similar charge.

In his defence, Mr Djindjic insists that he never received any draft papers. At the time of his call-up, he had fled to Montenegro in fear of being attacked for his stance on the war .

The Alliance For Change maintains that the trial is politically motivated.

His group has been staging demonstrations around Serbia demanding the resignation of Mr Milosevic.

It accuses of leading Serbia into economic crisis and international isolation.

Leaving the court, Mr Djindjic vowed to continue with the protest, the next one being scheduled for later on Wednesday in the central Serbian town of Vernjacka Banja.

Mr Djindjic's statements have brought him into conflict with senior army generals, who have warned the opposition that they will resist any attempt to overthrow the elected government.

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