updated 7/3/2006 7:45:31 PM ET 2006-07-03T23:45:31

Dozens of inmates at Belgrade's main prison sewed their lips together and burned blankets Monday to protest poor living conditions in the facility and Serbian courts' slow handling of their cases, the Justice Ministry said.

More than 300 prisoners at the facility — which houses some of the notorious underworld figures who were once loyal to late President Slobodan Milosevic — refused their breakfast and 65 among them sewed their own lips with needles, thread and safety pins.

Prison doctors were called in to remove the self-inflicted stitches and a delegation from the Belgrade District Court judge met with the inmates to hear their complaints and demands, the ministry said.

The authorities, however, declined to confirm media reports that an elite police unit was also dispatched to the facility to try to ensure that the protest does not escalate.

The highest-profile convict there is Milorad Ulemek, a Milosevic-era paramilitary commander accused of organizing assassinations of the former president's political opponents. Ousted from power in 2000, Milosevic died in March while on trial before the U.N. war crimes court in the Netherlands.

Ulemek is also currently on trial — along with a dozen accomplices also held at the maximum security facility — for the 2003 murder of Zoran Djindjic, Serbia's first democratic prime minister since World War II.

Serbian legal authorities are known for their slowness in processing court cases, leading to yearslong detentions without charges or trial.

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