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MILOSEVIC lawyers delay Yugoslav hearing on extradition order, war crimes indictment

BELGRADE, Yugoslavia (AP) _ Lawyers for Slobodan Milosevic filed a request Wednesday that two judges and a prosecutor be dismissed from his case, delaying a hearing that would have moved the former president closer to being extradited to a U.N. war crimes tribunal.

An extradition order and international war crimes indictment were to have been read to Milosevic in the presence of his defense team at the Central Prison in the Yugoslav capital, Belgrade.

But Milosevic's lawyers announced their request minutes before the hearing, scheduled for noon Wednesday.

The move will buy them time until the Supreme Court in Serbia, Yugoslavia's dominant republic, rules on their motion. The court must make a ruling in 24 hours.

``We have filed a demand for the exclusion of the investigative judge of the Belgrade district court, its chief magistrate and the district prosecutor,'' Zdenko Tomanovic, a Milosevic lawyer, told reporters swarming the prison gates.

The attorneys did not explain why they wanted the prosecutor and two district court judges dismissed. Under Yugoslav law, such a motion does not require an explanation.

The Supreme Court is likely to reject the motion, and the hearing, intended to allow Milosevic to respond to the indictment and extradition order, would be rescheduled.

Milosevic, in prison since April 1, is sought by the U.N. tribunal based in The Hague, Netherlands, for alleged involvement in atrocities committed in Kosovo during the crackdown on the province's ethnic Albanian population. The crackdown ended two years ago, after NATO's 78-day bombing campaign.

Yugoslavia is investigating charges of corruption and abuse of power against him.

If extradited, Milosevic would be the first former head of state to face a war crimes trial in front of the U.N. tribunal, established in 1992.

Moves to extradite him have intensified as Yugoslavia's pro-democracy government seeks to meet international demands ahead of a key donors conference Friday in Brussels, Belgium.

Yugoslavia's moves to extradite Milosevic drew U.S. praise and indications Washington would participate in the international conference, along with European Union countries, to drum up financial aid for the country ravaged by 13 years of Milosevic's misrule.

Washington has linked U.S. aid to Milosevic's extradition for trial at The Hague but has not definitively said it would attend the conference. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher expressed approval Tuesday indicated the Americans were leaning toward participating in the conference.

Also Tuesday, Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica singled out U.S. pressure as contributing to his country's change of heart on extraditing Milosevic, and another key Belgrade leader signaled that Milosevic's handover to the tribunal was a virtual certainty.

Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic of Serbia, the main Yugoslav republic, said not even a high court ruling could stop the process.

Milosevic's lawyers are also appealing a government decree making the extradition of Yugoslav citizens possible. The decree, passed by the Yugoslav government last week, is being challenged as illegal by Milosevic's attorneys with the country's Constitutional Court. That court is to review the appeal Thursday.

But Djindjic said the tribunal's claim on Milosevic will have priority over any constitutional court ruling.

A delegation of top officials from Milosevic's Socialist party met Wednesday with Kostunica in a second day of protests against their leader's extradition, as dozens of Milosevic's supporters gathered outside the government building.
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