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Mladic denies war role, thousands protest

BELGRADE, May 30 – Bosnian Serb war crimes suspect Ratko Mladic insists he was not responsible for the 1995 Srebrenica massacre, his son said, as thousands protested in Belgrade against the ex-army chief\’s arrest.

Minor skirmishes broke out after up to 10,000 people peacefully protested in central Belgrade, with small gangs of mostly young demonstrators throwing stones and flares at riot police.

But police quickly said they had the situation under control.

Interior Minister Ivica Dacic told Serbian state television that 111 people — 37 of them minors — were detained after the riots.

"Ten people and 26 policemen suffered injuries, mostly minor," Dacic said.

Earlier, Mladic\’s son Darko had said his father not only said he had nothing to do with the Srebrenica massacre of 8,000 Muslim men and boys — the worst atrocity in Europe since World War II — but that he had actually saved lives.

"He said that whatever was done in Srebrenica, he had nothing to do with it," Darko Mladic said after visiting his father in a detention centre at Serbia\’s war crimes court.

"He saved so many women, children and fighters… His order was first to evacuate the wounded, women and children and then fighters. Whoever did what behind his back, he had nothing to do with it."

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Mladic, 69, may be transferred in the next few days to the UN war crimes tribunal in The Hague, where he has been indicted for genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes.

Sunday\’s protest saw between 8,000 and 10,000 people rally in front of parliament in central Belgrade, police said, with around 3,000 police and anti-riot officers assembled nearby.

Protesters carried flags of the far-right Serbian Radical Party (SRS) Posters, banners and t-shirts declared, "Mladic is a Serbian hero!".

"We demand that Serbian President Boris Tadic and his government be dismissed," SRS lawmaker Lidija Vukicevic told the crowd.

"With their pro-Western policies and fulfilling orders from Brussels and Washington, the regime of Boris Tadic has crushed all the interests of Serbia and the Serbian people, and we are telling him to stop with this betrayal."

Milenko Nikolic, a 52-year old protestor, accused Tadic of "betraying our biggest hero to satisfy Western demands."

"Mladic has already gained eternal glory among us, his people, I do not care what others think," said 35-year old Ljiljana Krtic.

The arrest of Mladic on Thursday has sparked some anger in Serbia, where many still consider him a national hero.

Mladic\’s lawyer said the ex-general had urged his supporters not to provoke unrest following his detention.

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In July 2008 after the arrest of Bosnian Serb wartime political leader Radovan Karadzic, thousands of ultra-nationalists staged a violent protest in Belgrade, leaving one dead.

Some 3,000 people, mostly Bosnian Serb former soldiers, also angrily protested Sunday against Mladic\’s arrest in his birthplace of Kalinovik, in southeastern Bosnia.

A fugitive for nearly 16 years, a Serbian judge on Friday ruled Mladic fit to be transferred to the UN tribunal.

Darko Mladic said he expected his father to remain in Belgrade at least until Tuesday as he sends an appeal notice by mail on Monday.

"Mladic might come Monday or Tuesday," said Mehmet Guney, acting president of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), quoted by Turkey\’s Anatolia news agency.

Serbian authorities have said that the time and date of the transfer would be kept a secret to avoid incidents.

The ICTY indictment holds Mladic responsible for a number of atrocities during the 1992-95 Bosnian war, including the Srebrenica massacre and the 44-month siege of the city of Sarajevo, during which 10,000 were killed.

Serbia has also vowed to track down those who helped protect Mladic during his years on the run, amid questions over why it took so long for him to be captured.

Mladic\’s lawyer Milos Saljic and family have argued that he is too ill to be transferred to The Hague court. In a rare interview Sunday his wife Bosilijka said he had suffered three strokes.

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After meeting his client on Sunday, Saljic said he was also not in a fit mental state.

"It was impossible to have a coherent conversation with him or to talk of his defence," he said.


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