News 29 May 11

Thousands Protest in Belgrade Against Mladic Arrest

Several thousand people gathered in Belgrade on Sunday evening to protest against the arrest of Ratko Mladic, who may be transferred to the Hague on Monday to stand trial.

Bojana Barlovac, Gordana Andric
Radicals protest over Mladic arrest
Radicals protest over Mladic arrest I Photo by FoNet

While the rally was largely peaceful, a group of young men were seen throwing rocks and sticks at some of the 3,000 policeman present to secure the gathering.

One policeman was seriously injured, and three others suffered light injuries, while 70 protesters were detained, public broadcaster RTS reported.

The protest, which was organised by the Serbian Radical Party, SRS, drew some 10,000 people, according to RTS.

Mladic, the former Bosnian Serb military leader who was arrested on Thursday after more than a decade on the run, may 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.

Guney said on Sunday that the trial of Mladic, who will face charges of genocide, including for the massacre at Srebrenica, other war crimes and crimes against humanity, could take 18 months to two years to complete.

Standing in front a banner that read "Tadic is Not Serbia", the speakers called on Belgrade to halt cooperation with the Tribunal in the Hague.

The vice-president of the Radicals, Dragan Todorovic, said that if his party came to power, they would "fight for a greater Serbia".

The son of Ratko Mladic, Darko, told the crowd that his father was not a war criminal, but a freedom fighter.

"Ratko Mladic is a defender of his and other people. He fought for the freedom of his people and did not order the killing of civilians and prisoners," he said.

"We must not allow illiterate Westerners to write history and say that Ratko Mladic is a criminal because that is a lie. Ratko Mladic is not only my father and the father of my dead sister; he is also the father of all those who were not killed and thrown into pits," he added, arguing that his father defended the Serb people and did not fight against other nations.

"I do not know if this will change anything, but there was no choice," Jelena Saljic, one of the attendees at the rally, told Balkan Insight.

Protesters carrying Ratko Mladic posters
Protesters carrying Ratko Mladic posters I Photo by FoNet

Miodrag Petkovic, another protester, says he is optimistic and believes that such a mistake can be resolved and the transfer of Mladic to the Hague can be stopped.

"It's really ugly for Serbia and the Serb people to arrest someone who fought for Serbia. It's a great shame," Petkovic told Balkan Insight.

Supporters of the Radicals, carrying Serbian flags and images of Mladic and their party leader, Vojislav Seselj, and singing patriotic songs, gathered in front of the Serbian parliament.

Sunday's rally was held to protest against the arrest of Mladic and Belgrade's decision to send him to the Hague to stand trial.

Vjerica Radeta, a party official, told reporters on Saturday that the Radicals had called the meeting under the name "Cooperation with the Hague Tribunal is a betrayal of Serbian national interests."

Similiar protests against Mladic's capture drew a few hundred demonstrators in Bosnia's predominantly Serb entity, Republika Srpska, on Friday.

The head of the opposition Radical Party, Vojislav Seselj, is himself on trial in The Hague on charges of war crimes committed during the conflict in Bosnia. The SRS is the only major party to have criticised the Mladic arrest, calling it one of the saddest developments in Serbia's history.

Far right organisations in Serbia also called on people on their websites to gather on Sunday evening in the city centre to protest the arrest of Mladic.  

The Interior Ministry, however, has said that it will prohibit all other announced and unreported gatherings of extremist groups.

Serbian Interior Minister Ivica Dacic confirmed on Saturday that police would take measures to prevent the possible escalation of the behavior of extremist groups that could use the Radicals' rally for unrest.

Meanwhile, Mladic’s defence lawyer, Milos Saljic, said on Saturday that his client called on the public not to cause riots because of his arrest, and to avoid bloodshed in the streets.

The situation in Serbia following the arrest of Ratko Mladic has remained stable, while security measures have been raised.

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