Serbs Protest Arrest of Ratko Mladic on Genocide Charges

Some 10,000 ultra-nationalists clashed with police as protests turned violent.

BELGRADE, Serbia, May 29, 2011 — -- Clashes between Serbian police and protesters broke out in downtown Belgrade as up to 10,000 ultra nationalists protested against the arrest and proposed extradition of Ratko Mladic on charges of genocide.

The protest rally was called by the Serbian Radical party, whose leader Vojislav Seselj is himself in The Hague, also facing war crimes charges. It is the only major party to criticize the arrest of Mladic.

The demonstrations were aimed at Serbian President Boris Tadic's government, which orchestrated the arrest of Mladic in his cousin's house in the northern Serbian village of Lazarevo, after 16 years on the run.

The protests in front of Serbian parliament came as the 69-year-old former Bosnian Serb general denied, through his son, responsibility for the 1995 massacre at Srebrenica, the worst atrocity Europe has witnessed since the Holocaust.

The War Crimes Tribunal at The Hague has indicted Mladic on charges of committing a range of war crimes -- from the 1992 campaign of ethnic cleansing in eastern Bosnia to the establishment of concentration camps in the northwest Bosnia to the three-year siege of Sarajevo to the taking of U.N. hostages in 1995 during NATO air strikes and the most terrible of all -- the 1995 Srebrenica massacre.

Despite calls for calm from the event's organizers, towards the end of the protests, groups of young demonstrators threw rocks, bottles and sticks at some of the estimated 3,000 riot policemen.

Hundreds of police operatives, some in full riot gear, some on horseback, moved in against the crowd. Some beat with batons and kicked protesters. One policeman was seriously wounded, dozens of demonstrators were injured, while 100 protestors were detained, according to police.

"We are gathered here to peacefully protest the betrayal of (Serbian President) Boris Tadic and his bosses in Brussels," party leaders told the crowd before the clashes erupted. "We have had enough economic humiliation by our enemies, who are destroying our country ... in every way."

At the protest -- which was attended by members of Mladic's family and thousands of others -- speakers demanded that Tadic step down.

Mladic's son, Darko, defiantly told the crowd that his father is "a freedom fighter" who "defended his own nation, defended his people, in a honorable, fair and professional manner," adding that "we will never allow those who bombed us to write our history. For centuries we have been fighting for our own state, for our own country to give us security. We don't allow illiterate Westerners to write our history."

Darko Mladic called on protesters to keep their demonstration peaceful.

"Tomorrow if I'm able to visit my father, I will tell him of this and he will cry again," he said.

Loyalists waved Serbian flags, images of Mladic and their party leader, Vojislav Seselj, and chanted "Long Live Ratko Mladic!"

"Mladic is a hero because he defended Serb lives during the awful wars of the 1990s," said Marko Kovacevic, 18, a supporter of the Radical Party, wearing a black T shirt emblazoned with "F--k Google, ask me about Mladic."

"Everybody knows that the war crimes tribunal in The Hague was designed to try Serbs only, while the war criminals who killed Serbs are set free," Kovacevic said.

Mladic's lawyer, Milos Saljic, meanwhile, is fighting extradition on the grounds of Mladic's mental condition, arguing he is not fit to stand trial.

Saljic said the former commander is repeatedly demanding to visit the grave of his daughter, Ana, who committed suicide with one of his handguns in 1994.

"He says if he can't go there, he wants his daughter's coffin brought to him in jail," Saljic said. "His condition is alarming."

A Serbian official said there had been a provisional court ruling allowing Mladic to visit the grave, but the security services would probably veto the decision.

Mladic's arrest clears a major hurdle for Serbia and its long-awaited entrance into the European Union, but Rasim Ljajic, who is head of the national council for relations with The Hague acknowledged that Mladic's arrest could cost the ruling party the next election.

"We knew that a majority of citizens were against his extradition to The Hague," Ljajic told the Bosnian newspaper, Dnevni Avaz. "All polls showed it, including the last one we did about 10 days ago. It showed that 51 percent of Serbian citizens opposed his extradition and that 34 percent were for it."

Mladic allegedly presided over the five-day slaughter in July 1995 when Muslim men and boys were systematically executed in what was described at the U.N. war crimes tribunal as "the triumph of evil."

Jurists at The Hague tribunal are carefully reviewing 11 indictments against Mladic, as they await his imminent extradition.

Mladic could be transferred to the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in the Hague on Monday or Tuesday, according to the acting president of the Tribunal, Mehmet Guney.

His trial on charges of genocide, including the massacre at Srebrenica, other war crimes and crimes against humanity, could take 18 months to two years to complete.

Guney appointed Germany's Christoph Flugge presiding judge in the trial. The other two judges will be Alphonse Orie of the Netherlands and Bakone Moloto of South Africa.