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Serb Leader Orders Release From Police Custody for Harshest Critic

<i> From Associated Press</i>

Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic ordered his harshest critic released from police custody Friday after doctors said he is near death from a hunger strike.

Belgrade TV reported that Milosevic signed an official pardon freeing opposition leader Vuk Draskovic and his wife, Danica, arrested June 1 after a violent anti-government demonstration.

While in custody, the Draskovics reportedly were beaten so badly that they required hospitalization. They had remained in the hospital under police guard. Draskovic, who had launched a hunger strike to protest his detention, was expected to stay four or five more days to regain his strength.

Milosevic’s order came hours after a Belgrade district court rejected an appeal by doctors who said Draskovic, 46, would die within hours if he were not freed.

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The Tanjug news agency quoted Milosevic as saying he “personally considers Draskovic guilty” but released him because the case made his government look bad.

Milosevic said the activist will still have to stand trial for an attack on a policeman, which carries a five-year sentence.

But Draskovic was pardoned for a more serious charge of participating in a violent demonstration. Milosevic indicated that Danica Draskovic would be pardoned on both counts.

Before the pardon, the Draskovics had faced up to 10 years in prison on riot-related charges.

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