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State of emergency aimed at criminals, not citizens: Zivkovic

Belgrade, March 28 - Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Zivkovic spoke about measures undertaken by police and the crime situation before a state of emergency was declared in Serbia in an interview with the weekly NIN. The following are excerpts from the interview:

On the situation after the assassination of Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic

"There are several aspects of the current situation, and the assassination of Zoran Djindjic is one very important point. A lot is the same as before: we have the same number of budget users, the same problems in filling and balancing the budget, parts of the society that are insufficiently reformed, public enterprises... On the other hand, we still have the same position on the path of reforms in all that has been achieved in these two years. We are cracking down on organised crime groups -- some four thousand people have so far been detained or arrested. More than one thousand of them were detained, and several hundreds criminal charges have been filed. This operation, when it is completed, will bring Serbia among the countries with the lowest crime rates in Europe because the majority of the criminals will first be before the courts, and then in prison."

On whether such harsh measures were necessary to combat crime

"One day after the assassination of Prime Minister Djindjic the police arrested those marked as prime suspects for this and many previous murders. Some of the data were known for years, as those are organised criminal groups that had long existed in Serbia. As for the Zemun Gang, clear evidence of murders and drug trafficking came several days before the assassination of the Prime Minister. A protected witness gave a statement to the special prosecutor that could be used as evidence in court... Therefore, this is not something that we waited months or years for - it's the opposite: having that kind of evidence at hand was the motivation to assassinate the Prime Minister. The action of arresting criminals is not a consequence of the assassination of Zoran Djindjic, on the contrary -- he was murdered above all because they knew that the operation was about to start and they knew there was relevant evidence against them."

On the legal boundaries which prevented the action from taking place sooner

"We had problems with adopting the Law on the fight against organised crime that was adopted by the Serbian Parliament in August last year, and in the federal Parliament as late as at the end of last year. It took two months to appoint a special prosecutor and create conditions for the work of the special prosecutor's office. When you look at it like that, March 12 was the twelfth day from the creation of all institutional frameworks to begin this operation. There is also the problem of the Law on criminal procedure which stipulates conditions for taking suspects into custody, such as in countries where the police are well-organised; where the judicial system is definitely independent and where the crime rate is low. A state of emergency was introduced for one reason only - for the investigation to enact its mechanism of detaining for 30 days, which would make it possible for the police, in a way that is possible, to gather relevant evidence. Something has been done in this field, but we will keep working on creating conditions to introduce a 60 day detention period for terrorist, organised crime and war crime offences. These are not severe measures, as they exist in the legislation of the most democratic world countries."

On the results of the investigation so far

"We have a unique opportunity to root out organised crime. We had to pay an enormous price and that was the life of our prime minister. However, this operation would also have been carried out even if he had not been killed, but perhaps not as intensively and dramatically. We now have to start court proceedings, so don't think that everything is finished. But we can be satisfied with the results achieved so far.

On evidence collected during the investigation

"I haven't seen any evidence related to the case, but I was told that there are some three tonnes of material containing only the testimonies of those involved in Djindjic's murder, excluding testimonies of members of other organised criminal groups. Fifteen days ago I found criminal movies ridiculous because I thought they were unrealistic and impossible. But they are a Disneyland park in comparison to what I have heard about the investigation so far, about the activities of these groups and the people involved in Djindjic's murder. I will leave that to the prosecution and the court."

On connections between authorities and the mafia

"That fact should not come as a surprise. We were saying that both the judiciary and the police were not all clear from those who cooperated with criminals. There can be no organised crime if its members are not connected to the police, the prosecution, courts and the media. From the technical point of view, it is not surprising that the Prime Minister's assassin is a member of the Red Beret police unit, because assassins are always sharpshooters who are members of special units. You cannot learn to shoot like that at a two-year school or over the Internet. The assassins are almost always members of police or military forces. The surprising element is that the Prime Minister's assassin was the special unit's assistant commander."

On the state of emergency

"The state of emergency was introduced with the aim of providing investigative organs with additional mechanisms so that they could carry out the investigation more effectively. The state of emergency is aimed at criminals, not at citizens. Such a step was absolutely necessary. However, no one has the right to abuse the state of emergency and measures which apply to the media. No one can influence journalists as to what they should write."

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