Serbia's PM accused of arrest asquiescence

Opposition politicians accused Serbia's conservative prime minister Friday of following in former President Slobodan Milosevic's footsteps with the allegedly retaliatory arrest of a leading critic.

The pro-democracy opposition claims the arrest of former Justice Minister Vladan Batic was an attempt by authorities to silence one of Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica's fiercest opponents, who has accused authorities of widespread corruption and making concessions to Milosevic's allies.

Kostunica has not been directly linked to Batic's arrest on Wednesday for allegedly abusing his position while in power. Batic was to appear before an investigative judge on Friday.

Pro-democracy politicians demanded Batic's immediate release, threatening to take to the streets if he is not set free.

"Kostunica today is behaving as Milosevic once did, jailing his political opponents," former Deputy Prime Minister Cedomir Jovanovic. "The illusion that there is democracy in Serbia is gone."

Batic is suspected of ordering the release of a crime gang member in 2003, when he was justice minister in Serbia's first democratic government after Milosevic was toppled in 2000.

Kostunica was part of the movement as Batic, but later Kostunica became head of Serbia's minority coalition government which depends on Milosevic's Socialists for support in parliament.

Kostunica's critics claim Batic's arrest was in revenge for his accusing top government officials of corruption, according to the AP.

"Kostunica is persecuting a man with whom he once pretended to be fighting for democracy. If we managed to topple Milosevic on the streets, we can do it again, they cannot suffocate freedom forever," said Milan St. Protic, deputy leader of Batic's party the Christian Democrats.

Under Serbian law, after 48 hours in detention, a suspect must either be released, officially charged or a judge must extend stay in custody if the circumstances warrant this. Batic's 48 hours expire late Friday.


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