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Kosovo Reckoning: Djindjic accused of draft dodging

THE PROMINENT Serbian opposition leader Zoran Djindjic faced a military court yesterday on charges of dodging the draft during Nato's air strikes against Yugoslavia.

There had been fears that the 46-year-old head of the Democratic Party would be detained while the case was being examined as part of efforts by the leadership to halt a wave of anti-government protests around the country. However, he was allowed to remain at liberty while the proceedings continue.

Mr Djindjic said the prosecution at the Supreme Military Court dropped a detention order against him after accepting his call-up papers had not been properly served.

Sinisa Nikolic, one of Mr Djindjic's lawyers, said that at his next hearing on 3 August the politician would face an additional charge of failing as an army reservist to report a change of address. Mr Nikolic denied that Mr Djindjic had changed his address. The charge carries a fine of up to pounds 500 or up to 30 days in prison.

Leaving the court, Mr Djindjic said: "The criminal proceedings will be dropped if legal reasons prevail, and will continue if the motivation is political, and that depends on [Yugoslav President Slobodan] Milosevic."

The opposition leader, who has called for Mr Milosevic to resign, was cheered as he arrived at the Belgrade court.

He said: "Milosevic is running out of ideas on how to increase pressure on the opposition ... But nothing will stop the opposition from seeking his resignation."

His chief attorney, Strahinja Kastratovic, said he believed the proceedings would continue but did not exclude the possibility that all charges would eventually be dropped.

Earlier, Mr Djindjic said the action was politically motivated but if it helped bring down Mr Milosevic he was prepared to be arrested. "Every incident can only accelerate the end of Milosevic's regime, and if my arrest was the precondition for his downfall as soon as possible I would have nothing against it."

He said it was "utter hypocrisy" of the leadership to draft him for military service "to pull the chestnuts out of the fire for them" after his party had repeatedly warned that Mr Milosevic's policies would end in disaster.

Mr Djindjic had earlier said he did not expect to be arrested because of the leadership's fears that this could fan anti-government protests that have taken place in various towns in Serbia. (Reuters)