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Friday, 30 June, 2000, 21:28 GMT 22:28 UK
Serbia gripped by political intrigue
arrest of suspect
A suspect is arrested after the killing of a Milosevic ally
By South-East Europe analyst Gabriel Partos

With Serbia's descent into increasingly frequent high-profile political assassinations and gangland murders, the government and the opposition have been accusing each other of using terrorist methods to eliminate their opponents.

In the past three years, more than 20 prominent politicians, state officials and well-known criminal figures have been killed. But the alleged culprits have been apprehended in only three of those cases. And no one has been convicted so far.


Arkan
Paramilitary leader "Arkan" was shot dead in January
President Slobodan Milosevic's administration has been planning to exploit the widespread violence to push through tough legislation.

It will both greatly extend the definition of what is considered a terrorist act and increase the powers of the state to deal first with the suspects and then those found guilty.

The draft law provided for suspects to be detained without an indictment for 30 days - instead of the current practice of three days. Those found guilty were to be sentenced to between five years and life-long imprisonment.

Law's broad sweep

But what worried the opposition parties even more was the broad definition of what was to come under the anti-terrorist legislation.

In addition to kidnapping, arson, nuclear blackmail and similar crimes, there was also a vague reference to what were described as "generally dangerous" acts that could cause "feelings of insecurity and fear among citizens".

Slobodan Milosevic
Milosevic accuses the West of destabilising Serbia
In addition, acts considered to threaten the constitutional order were to be included in the legislation.

This formulation opened up a whole range of political activities to possible prosecution under a broad interpretation of the law.

Just a few days ago, the term "threat to the constitutional order" was used to describe an attempt to spray graffiti on the wall of a police station.

The informal opposition movement, known as Otpor - or Resistance - would be particularly likely to come under increased pressure from the authorities because of its preference for direct action in criticising Mr Milosevic's regime.

Montenegro defiant

Meanwhile, Serbia's partner in the Yugoslav Federation, increasingly independent-minded Montenegro, has already made it clear that it will have nothing to do with the anti-terrorist legislation.

Under the planned law, endangering the union of Serbia and Montenegro would also have come under the provisions for terrorism.

Yet none of this opposition would have prevented the new law from being adopted if Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Vojislav Seselj's far-right Radical Party had not decided to scupper the bill - at least in its present form.

Without the Radicals' support, the bill could not have been pushed through the federal parliament's upper house, the Chamber of Republics.

Pressure from Radicals

Mr Seselj has not explained in public his reasons for opposing the anti-terrorism law.

One reason may be that the Radicals might themselves become the target for the tough new legislation if their electoral alliance with Mr Milosevic's Socialists breaks down one day.

In the past Mr Seselj has himself had some unpleasant encounters with the police.

Alternatively, the Radicals may be seeking some concessions - perhaps hoping for a stronger role in government or in the state-controlled business sector - and are holding up legislation now to increase the pressure.

In either event, the climbdown represented by the shelving of the bill is something of an embarrassment for Mr Milosevic.

How long the opposition will enjoy this respite from further harsh legislation is another matter.

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See also:

17 May 00 | Europe
Clashes after Serb media raid
13 May 00 | Europe
Milosevic ally shot dead
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