BELGRADE, Serbia-Montenegro — The alleged assassin of Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic told police days after the slaying that he killed the reformist leader to stop the extradition of Serbs to the U.N. war crimes tribunal, according to a confession read Thursday at his trial.
Zvezdan Jovanovic, the deputy commander of a Serbian paramilitary group, is charged with firing the shots that killed Djindjic on March 12 as he stepped out of his car in front of government headquarters in central Belgrade.
"I personally killed Zoran Djindjic," Jovanovic reportedly said during an interrogation after his arrest in late March.
Jovanovic's confession was read by the presiding judge, Marko Kljajevic, despite objections from defense lawyer Nenad Vukasovic, who suggested that the confession was obtained under threat of force and should be declared invalid.
Vukasovic stressed that his client made his confession while emergency measures were in force giving police broader powers than usual. There were reports of police abuse at the time, and human rights groups condemned the state of emergency declared by the government in the wake of Djindjic's killing.
Jovanovic refused to enter a plea Wednesday, accusing the court of being biased.
Authorities have said the attack on Djindjic was part of a wider plot to unseat his pro-Western government. Besides Jovanovic, 35 police and alleged gangster associates have been charged in connection with the assassination and other criminal acts.
In his reported confession, Jovanovic outlined how he and the others plotted Djindjic's assassination.
"I consider this a political assassination. I believed that it would stop the further extradition of our warriors to The Hague," Jovanovic was quoted as saying, referring to the international war crimes court.
The Hague tribunal is trying those believed responsible for atrocities committed during the wars in Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo in the 1990s, including former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic. Djindjic was instrumental in handing over Milosevic in 2001.