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Serbian PM shot dead

Djindjic was shot twice in the chest

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BELGRADE, Serbia (CNN) -- Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic, who played a key role in the overthrow of Slobodan Milosevic, has been shot dead in Belgrade.

The government said Wednesday announced a state of emergency, which needs approval from Serbia's acting president, Natasa Micic, to take effect. It is not clear what measures would be introduced if a state of emergency is imposed.

World leaders immediately expressed their outrage to the killing, which officials speculated could be linked to a crime wave in the country and the government's efforts to stamp out crime.

Another person was wounded in the shooting outside the main Serbian government building at about 12:45 p.m. local time (1145 GMT), police said. The shots came from a distance, suggesting a sniper pulled the trigger.

Two shots hit Djindjic, doctors said, both in the chest. He had emergency surgery in hospital but doctors were unable to save his life, hospital officials said.

Police, on the hunt for the perpetrators, were stopping cars and searching them. Belgrade's airport was closed for departures; only arrivals were allowed.

Three people have been arrested but it is not clear what their role may be in connection with the incident, police sources said. Their identities have not been disclosed.

An emergency session of the Serbian government was convened, government officials said, and Djindjic's assassination was announced. At the beginning of the session, there was a moment of silence.

A senior official of Serbia's ruling coalition said the government, which confirmed Djindjic's death, had appointed Deputy Prime Minister Nebojsa Covic as acting prime minister, Reuters reported.

Covic appeared on television and said: "The assassination of the prime minister of Serbia, Zoran Djindjic, was a criminal act by those who want to disrupt reforms in Serbia."

Police investigate outside the building where Djindjic was shot.
Police investigate outside the building where Djindjic was shot.

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said U.S. President George W. Bush "expresses his condolences to the people of Serbia."

"Prime Minister Djindjic will be remembered for his role in bringing democracy to Serbia and for his role in bringing Slobodan Milosevic to justice," Fleischer said. (More reaction)

British officials who worked with the former Yugoslavia called it "a dark day" for Serbia. Belgrade residents and people throughout the Serbia were in a "state of shock."

The European Union's foreign policy chief Javier Solana talked of his personal friendship with Djindjic and condemned the assassination.

"A friend of mine has been killed, a very good friend. I had the opportunity of working with him during the last period of time. I had a very long conversation the day before yesterday to make to help him make progress in the development of his country."

Djindjic had put himself out on a limb to meet Western demands for aid by handing over other suspected war criminals such as Milosevic to the Hague. His reformist pro-Western stance drew opposition from Serb nationalists and created many enemies.

Police guard Ruzica Djindic as she leaves hospital where her husband was taken.
Police guard Ruzica Djindic as she leaves hospital where her husband was taken.

Last month, he appeared to have been targeted when a truck suddenly cut into the lane in which his motorcade was traveling to Belgrade's airport.

CNN's Chief International Correspondent Christiane Amanpour said on Wednesday: "This is a very, very severe blow to all those in the international community trying to engage with Serbia." (Analysis)

She added that Djindjic, who was married with three children, was "aware of his own vulnerability. He has talked many times of threats to his own life."

Amanpour said he had been an "emblem of democracy ... he has played a key and dramatic role in bringing his country into the democratic world ... a courageous man."

Serbia, which has a population of 10.5 million, is one of the two republics in the nation of Serbia and Montenegro, previously called Yugoslavia.

They had been the only two republics remaining in Yugoslavia after the six-member socialist federation collapsed in the 1990s.

Yugoslavia -- first formed in 1918 -- started unraveling along ethnic lines in the early 1990s. Slovenia, Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina seceded in a series of ethnic wars, while Macedonia separated peacefully, leaving only Serbia and Montenegro together. The name was officially changed from Yugoslavia last month.

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