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Serbs 'tighten noose' around assassins

BELGRADE, Serbia-Montenegro — Police raided the home of a late underworld boss Monday in their hunt for the assassins of the Serbian prime minister, as parliament of the new union that replaced Yugoslavia convened to elect its first Cabinet.

Authorities have accused the underworld Zemun Clan, named after a Belgrade suburb, of being behind the assassination of Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic last Wednesday.

The clan is made up of crime bosses, drug traffickers and shadowy paramilitary figures dating back to the regime of ousted former President Slobodan Milosevic.

More than 300 people have been arrested so far in the investigation of the slaying.

But the main ringleaders, including the Zemun group's chief Milorad Lukovic, a paramilitary commander and state security chief under Milosevic, remained at large.

Special police troops descended Monday on the headquarters and family home of Serbia's late underworld boss and warlord Zeljko Raznatovic, alias Arkan, himself killed in a gangland-style attack in 2001. Lukovic served under Arkan before joining Milosevic's crack police.

Armored jeeps and police cars were parked outside Arkan's villa as masked policemen with machine-guns stormed it. The target of their search was not immediately known, but they apparently were looking for clues in their probe.

Witnesses said police detained several private guards at Arkan's compound. A fire brigade and two ambulances also arrived at the scene. Arkan's paramilitary troops committed atrocities during the Balkan wars of the 1990s.

"We are tightening the noose, it is just a matter of days before Lukovic is behind bars," said Cedomir Jovanovic, a close Djindjic aide.

Of those arrested so far, four have offered to testify for the prosecutors in exchange for protected witness status, the government said.

Their testimonies revealed that the Zemun clan, believed allied with state security members from Milosevic's regime, took part in political assassinations commonplace during Milosevic's regime.

The underworld network also organized drug trafficking and was "directly linked through a European network of drug dealers with the Colombian narcotics cartel."

Beyond pointing out the clan's connection with the Colombian cartel in drug trafficking, the government did not directly implicate the Colombians in Djindjic's death.

Two heavy detonations resounded early Monday at the compound owned by the Zemun Clan. The demolition of the abandoned three-story building began after Djindjic's assassination, but several explosions have not managed to finish it off.

Meanwhile, the parliament of Serbia and Montenegro — a new loose union that last month replaced Yugoslavia — convened to elect its first Cabinet, a five-man government to run its joint foreign and defense policy, as well as economic relations.

"Our task now is to defend democracy from the rampage of violence which has reigned here far too long," said parliament speaker Dragoljub Micunovic, as lawmakers observed a moment of silence in Djindjic's memory.

On Sunday, Djindjic's party nominated Zoran Zivkovic — a close aide to Djindjic and vice president of his ruling Democratic Party — as his successor.

Zivkovic's candidacy still needs approval in the Serbian parliament, where a vote has been called for Tuesday. The Democrats and a dozen allied parties hold a slight majority in the Serbian assembly.