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Fistfight in Yugoslav Parliament

February 26, 2001

BELGRADE, Yugoslavia (AP) _ Yugoslavia’s defense minister and an ultranationalist leader came to blows in parliament Monday during debate on a proposed law granting amnesty to draft dodgers and some jailed Kosovo Albanians.

The session was temporarily suspended after the brawl erupted during discussion of a law meant to pardon many of those prosecuted for political reasons under former President Slobodan Milosevic.

Witnesses said Defense Minister Slobodan Krapovic and Vojislav Seselj, the leader of the Serbian Radicals, exchanged blows just before Krapovic was to address parliament. Krapovic hit Seselj in the face after the ultranationalist repeatedly harassed him. Seselj then hit him back.

Neither was seriously hurt. The session resumed after about 15 minutes of arguments and exchange of insults between the Radicals and other deputies.

Since Milosevic was ousted in October, the new authorities have faced international pressure to pardon political prisoners and the jailed ethnic Albanians.

Legislators loyal to Milosevic have criticized the proposed amnesty, alleging it was drafted under U.S. pressure and is meant to undermine Yugoslavia’s defense and the military.

``You are destroying the defense of our country with this law,″ Seselj declared. ``You are destroying the state, you are pardoning traitors and cowards.″

Milosevic’s wife, Mirjana Markovic, leader of the neocommunist Yugoslav Left Party, said during the heated debate that Serbs ``will give up their right to resist aggression″ if the law is passed.

Pro-democracy Justice Minister Momcilo Grubac said it was unacceptable for Yugoslavia to persecute more than 30,000 young people who refused to serve in the military under Milosevic.

``The defense of the country is not undermined by such a law, but by bad state policies, as we have all experienced,″ Grubac said, referring to Milosevic’s 13-year rule.

Milosevic’s regime fought four unsuccessful wars, including against NATO and its 1999 bombing campaign aimed at stopping Milosevic’s crackdown on rebellious ethnic Albanians in Kosovo.

Thousands of Yugoslavia’s young people evaded military service or left the country in the past decade. The amnesty would pardon them and others accused or convicted of anti-state activities.

That is believed to include about 100 ethnic Albanians sentenced for joining the Kosovo rebel movement in 1999. Those convicted of terrorism will not be released, but their cases might be reviewed.

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