Belgrade, Yugoslavia — Slobodan Milosevic surrendered before dawn today and was whisked away to prison, ending a 26-hour standoff in his villa against police looking to arrest the former Yugoslav leader for charges linked to a decade of repressive rule.
A convoy of five cars carrying Milosevic sped out of the villa where he had been holed up with his armed bodyguards, and minutes later BK TV showed footage of the convoy entering Belgrade's Central Prison and the iron gates closing behind it.
The government and police said Milosevic was immediately handed over to an investigative judge. Branislav Ivkovic, a close Milosevic aide, said the former Yugoslav president surrendered voluntarily "to include himself in the legal procedure."
The surrender came after police appeared to be gearing up for a new attempt to storm the villa in an upscale Belgrade neighborhood, even as negotiators worked through the night. About 60 special police, some wearing woolen masks over their heads and toting machine guns and pistols, had been seen gathering close to one gate of the sprawling villa.
Four to five gunshots were heard from inside the villa just before the arrest. Serbian Interior Minister Dusan Mihajlovic said they were fired by Milosevic's 32-year-old daughter, Marija, "who was in a state of distress" when her father was taken away. He did not say if anyone was injured in the shooting.
Police had tried to raid the villa before dawn Saturday and seize Milosevic, but were repulsed by his personal guards, who opened fire with automatic weapons. During the day, with hundreds of his supporters blocking the villa's gates, Milosevic told police he would rather die than surrender, officials said.
Sources close to the government told The Associated Press that the negotiations leading to Milosevic's surrender had "been extremely difficult." Milosevic remained stubborn, they said, frequently brandishing the pistol he always carried with him, his wife and daughter insisting he shouldn't give himself up.
Milosevic, who was forced from office in October by mass demonstrations, has been indicted by the U.N. war crimes tribunal in The Hague, Netherlands, for war crimes and crimes against humanity in connection with atrocities committed during his harsh crackdown on ethnic Albanians in Kosovo in 1999.
The Yugoslav government, however, has insisted it must try Milosevic first for crimes committed against its people before it would consider handing him over to the U.N. court.
Ivkovic, who was in the compound during the arrest, urged people to "give the judges a chance to hand out the final verdict" on charges of corruption and abuse of power.
Earlier, President Vojislav Kostunica made it clear that there was no way Milosevic would escape justice.
"No one can remain untouchable. ... Every individual must bear responsibility according to the law," Kostunica said. "Whoever shoots at the police must be apprehended. Whoever has been subpoenaed by a judge must answer those summons. ... The law applies to every citizen."
The U.S. Congress had set Saturday as a deadline for Yugoslavia to begin cooperating with the Hague tribunal. Washington had threatened Belgrade with a suspension of $50 million in economic aid yet to be disbursed for the current fiscal year.
Mihajlovic said the attempted arrest was not intended to turn Milosevic over to the tribunal, "but to hand him over to an investigative judge under domestic laws." Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic said the deadline was not a factor in the move to arrest Milosevic.
Criminal charges were filed against Milosevic on Friday, Mihajlovic said, and authorities said more charges could be filed in connection with Saturday's clashes. Police official Miodrag Vukovic said the original charges were abuse of power and corruption that cost the state close to $100 million, and that Milosevic would face a maximum five-year prison term if convicted.
After the failed raid Saturday morning, in which two policemen were wounded, police attempted to deliver an arrest warrant, but Milosevic refused it, accusing the government of "being NATO servants."
During the day, Milosevic supporters outside the villa gates taunted police, chanting "Slobo! Slobo!" Police reinforcements pushed them back in the evening, and stone-throwing scuffles erupted between some Milosevic supporters and people backing the new government.
Since his ouster from power last fall, Milosevic has lived under police surveillance in the tile-roof villa built for former communist dictator Josip Broz Tito in 1978, two years before Tito died. It is said to contain secret underground passages, as well as underground vaults containing jewelry gifts to Tito during his 36-year rule.
Milosevic rose to power in Yugoslavia during the waning years of communist power in Europe. In 1991, he triggered the bloody breakup of the former Yugoslavia, sending his army in losing wars against the pro-independence republics of Slovenia, Croatia and Bosnia.
His brutal attempts to put down an ethnic Albanian rebellion in Serbia's province of Kosovo led to NATO airstrikes that ultimately pushed his forces out of the province in 1999.
When Milosevic refused to accept electoral defeat in October, opposition supporters rioted. He conceded defeat Oct. 6, but remained politically active.