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Ultranationalist Serb’s Aide Shot

January 28, 2000

BELGRADE, Yugoslavia (AP) _ A top aide and longtime bodyguard of Serbia’s vice premier was shot and seriously wounded Friday in yet another high-profile gun attack in this crime-ridden country.

Petar Panic, 33, a security adviser and close associate of Vojislav Seselj, was shot near his home in Belgrade’s suburb Surcin.

The gunman, identified as 29-year-old Ljubimir Jovanovic, fled the scene, police said.

The attack came about two weeks after the slaying of Zeljko Raznatovic, known as Arkan, the country’s top paramilitary leader and another ultranationalist figure. It may indicate a showdown in Serbia’s complex underworld of political, paramilitary and mob leaders.

Panic was in critical condition, the independent Beta news agency said.

He underwent several hours of surgery to remove six bullets that ripped his intestines and liver, a hospital official said on condition of anonymity.

Seselj’s Serb Radical Party declined comment.

Police said they issued an arrest warrant for Jovanovic, but gave no other details except that he opened fire after a brief argument with Panic.

For years, Panic has provided security for Seselj, a vice premier known for his brazen statements and loyalty to Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic.

Together with Milosevic’s Socialists and a neo-communist group, Seselj’s Radical Party is a component of Serbia’s coalition government. It also supports Milosevic on the federal level.

In 1998, Panic made headlines when he beat human rights activists and a prominent Belgrade lawyer, Zarko Korac, who opposed Seselj in a television talk show. Snubbing public outrage, Seselj issued a mock denial of the attack, saying Korac ``slipped on a banana peel.″

When Seselj became the mayor of Zemun, a town just outside Belgrade, in 1996 local elections, Panic began to engage in business, earning a fortune through privileges and connections in the municipal government, newspapers said at the time.

During the wars in Croatia and Bosnia, both Arkan and Seselj organized paramilitary units that fought on the Serb side.

Since Arkan’s gangland-style killing, the country has abounded with rumors that Milosevic’s security service killed the Serb warlord because he knew too much. There has also been speculation that Arkan had offered to testify against Milosevic before the U.N. war crimes tribunal in The Hague, Netherlands.

Authorities dispute that, and police have arrested three suspects and issued arrest warrants for two others in Arkan’s death.

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