Serbian nationalists attacked police in Belgrade Sunday at a rally where about 10 000 protesters demanded President Boris Tadic and his government quit over the arrest of Bosnian Serb wartime general Ratko Mladic.
Mladic, indicted for genocide in the 43-month siege of Sarajevo and the massacre of 8,000 Muslims in Srebrenica during Bosnia’s 1992-95 war, was found Thursday in a village 100 km (60 miles) northeast of Belgrade after 16 years on the run.
Supporters of the ultranationalist Serbian Radical Party and of similar organizations were brought in by bus from across the country. Many came straight from Sunday soccer matches, Reuters reports.
Five protesters and two policemen were seriously injured in the clashes, Belgrade’s emergency hospital said.
“With the arrest of General Mladic…with its pro-Western policies, Boris Tadic’s regime betrayed all interests of the Serbian nation,” Radical Party official Lidija Vukicevic told the crowd from a stage.
“Serbia is sick of humiliation, kneeling and courting its enemies. We demand that Tadic and his treacherous government go,” Vukicevic said.
Groups of protesters threw stones at police shortly before the rally ended when police on foot and on horseback and backed by armoured riot-control vehicles dispersed the crowds. Seventy people were detained and about a dozen were hurt, police said.
Shop windows were broken and debris left strewn in the streets, a Reuters reporter said.
The protesters carried large posters of Mladic and other former Serb officials who are being tried for war crimes at the United Nations war crimes tribunal in The Hague. Some banners read: “Hypocrites and traitors arrested our hero,” “Mladic the ultimate Serb,” “Srebrenica is a NATO hoax.”
Mladic’s arrest is key to Serbia’s bid for European Union candidacy and came just weeks before U.N. chief war crimes prosecutor Serge Brammertz was due to brief the U.N. Security Council on Serbia’s progress in the hunt for Mladic.
“We say — the end to the Hague tyranny, the end to traitors,” said Radical Party deputy president Dragan Todorovic.
Protesters wearing soccer team scarves chanted: “Knife, Wire, Srebrenica” and made Nazi salutes.
Mladic’s son Darko said that his father was a defender of his people.
“Ratko Mladic is not a criminal, he did not order the killings. He defended his people in an honourable, fair and professional manner,” he told protesters.
Earlier Sunday, he said that the former general has denied responsibility for the Srebrenica massacre.
“Whatever was done in Srebrenica, he had nothing to do with that. He saved so many women, children and soldiers, his orders were first to evacuate the wounded, then women and children, then captured soldiers,” he said.
EXTRADITED TO THE HAGUE
Serbia’s war crimes court has ruled that Mladic is fit to travel to The Hague and has served extradition papers.
His lawyer Milos Saljic said Sunday the former general was mentally unstable. Saljic has said he would appeal the extradition ruling Monday, adding that Mladic had asked the demonstrators to protest peacefully.
In Bosnia, Mladic’s supporters rallied in the eastern town of Kalinovik where he spent his childhood. A banner hung over the main street, saying: “Welcome to Mladicevo” (Mladic’s town).
“He (Tadic) should be ashamed. He should expect to go down the river, just as Djindjic did,” said a woman dressed in black, referring to Serbia’s former prime minister, Zoran Djindjic, who was assassinated in 2003.
Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic had been arrested two years earlier and Djindjic handed him over to The Hague.
Earlier, Serbia’s war crimes court tentatively agreed to allow Mladic to visit his daughter’s grave, a court official said, and said the security services was likely to veto the decision.
Mladic’s daughter Ana committed suicide in 1994 with her father’s handgun and was buried at a cemetery in the outskirts of Belgrade. Before he went underground in early 2000s Mladic was frequently seen visiting her grave.
“He kept telling me that if they will not allow a visit to his daughter’s grave, they should exhume her and bring her body to his cell,” Mladic’s lawyer Saljic told Reuters.
After his arrest, Serbia’s police raised the security threat level and deployed riot police near embassies and government buildings.
Dozens of people were wounded in 2008 in riots in Serbia that followed the arrest of wartime political leader Radovan Karadzic.