Milosevic party blames opposition for murder

PRISTINA, May 15, 2000 -- (Reuters) President Slobodan Milosevic's Socialist party accused opposition on Sunday of being behind the murder of a senior government figure and warned of tough consequences.

An opposition leader said, by contrast, that the victim was a moderate in Milosevic's party who may have angered hard-liners because he was open to cooperating with political rivals.

"The shot at Bosko Perosevic is a shot at all of us," Gorica Gajevic, secretary-general of the Socialist Party (SPS), told a commemorative ceremony for the slain head of the Vojvodina provincial government in northern Serbia.

"Whether they are called (opposition movement) Otpor or whatever, they are nothing but NATO mercenaries and Serbia will fight against them as it has done against every other evil," Gajevic told the mourners.

The ceremony was attended by Milosevic, his wife Mirjana Markovic, also the leader of SPS ally Yugoslav Left, and all other top officials including army chief General Nebojsa Pavkovic and Serbian Interior Minster Vlajko Stojiljkovic.

Perosevic was shot in the head by a lone gunman while touring a farm fair in Novi Sad, capital of the northern province, on Saturday. The assassin was identified as Milivoje Gutovic, a member of the fair security.

An opposition leader described Perosevic as a moderate Socialist, ready to cooperate with his political foes, and called on the police minister to resign over a number of unsolved, high-profile murders stretching back years.

But Gajevic said: "The aggressor put its weapons into the hands of domestic servants and degenerates to do the dirty job for them, to sow fear and chaos," referring to NATO air strikes on Yugoslavia last year over Milosevic's harsh Kosovo policy.


"They (the opposition) are pursuing their aim fixed a long time ago - (they) want to 'set Serbia ablaze', they are trying to forcibly overthrow the authorities, to provoke street unrest and trigger a civil war."

Milosevic, who has dominated Yugoslav politics since 1987, has dealt more toughly with dissent since NATO's intervention. His police have shut down a handful of independent media outlets and taken heavy-handed measures to pre-empt large demonstrations.

In Vojvodina, police started detaining and arresting anti-government supporters and later on Sunday arrested Vladimir Pavlov, a prominent Otpor activist from Novi Sad.

The opposition has called for a rally in Belgrade on Monday, almost a week after it cancelled a demonstration in Milosevic's hometown when police prevented people from entering Pozarevac.

Zarko Jokanovic, a top official in the opposition New Democracy party, told Reuters earlier on Sunday: "There is no doubt that Bosko Perosevic belonged to the so-called soft wing of the Socialist Party. He was tolerant, educated and ready for cooperation."

His death was the latest in a series of high-profile killings in the isolated Balkan country, including Defence Minister Pavle Bulatovic in February and the deputy interior minister in 1997. Both are still unsolved.

"Due to his tolerance, Perosevic was probably not popular with Socialist hard-liners and their coalition partners in the Yugoslav Left," Jokanovic said.

He said Stojiljkovic "should finally resign if he didn't do that after all the other killings". Jokanovic was referring to up to 500 mostly unsolved murders of politicians, businessmen and underworld figures over the past decade in Serbia.

In contrast with most of these murders, Perosevic's killer was arrested on the spot and identified. Police did not give further information.

Belgrade media said on Sunday Gutovic had been a member of the Novi Sad fair security for 20 years and his colleagues described him as someone who did not make trouble but did "appear lost from time to time".

Local media quoted neighbors of Gutovic as saying he was considered a volatile man with a neurotic history. Several deaths in his family were reported over the past six months.

A police statement carried by the state news agency Tanjug said that "Serbian Renewal Movement (SPO) and Otpor posters and other materials, as well as books on terrorism...were found" during the search of Gutovic's flat.

Vuk Draskovic, the SPO leader, said the authorities were trying to cover up crimes of "state terror" and blame somebody else.

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