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Nov 12, 2014 9:53 AM

Big welcome for Serb nationalist as he goes home

The Associated Press

BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) Serbian far-right leader Vojislav Seselj, accused of recruiting notorious paramilitary forces during the bloody Balkan wars, arrived home to a boisterous welcome Wednesday after U.N. war crimes judges approved his provisional release due to ill health.

Hundreds of cheering supporters, carrying banners reading "Seselj the Serb Hero" and chanting "Victory! Victory!" greeted him as he landed at Belgrade airport.

In neighboring Bosnia and Croatia, however, his release triggered outrage.

"The judges are mocking the victims," said Bakira Hasecic, head of a Bosnian association of women raped during the wars in the 1990s.

"It's a shame for the whole world to release Seselj without a verdict," said Ruzica Barbaric, a rape victim from the eastern Croatian town of Vukovar, which was overrun by Serb troops, including Seselj's paramilitaries, in 1991. "I personally felt on my skin what his people, these criminals, have done here ... and all of them were Seselj's pupils."

Judges at the U.N. war crimes tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in The Hague, Netherlands, released Seselj so he could get medical treatment in Serbia on condition that he does not interfere with victims or witnesses and that he returns to the tribunal if summoned. Serbian doctors who visited the 60-year-old say he is suffering from colon cancer that has spread to his liver.

"I won the battle against the Hague tribunal, and that was my goal," Seselj told the crowd before the headquarters of his ultranationalist Serbian Radical Party. "The tribunal is a wounded globalist beast that is still destroying lives of distinguished Serbs."

The firebrand right-wing said his priority will be to oust Serbian President Tomislav Nikolic and Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic from power. The men were his close party allies but formed their own party while he was imprisoned and won the latest Serbian election.

"(They are) outcasts who sold their honor and character, renounced the Serb nationalism and became Western servants," Seselj declared.

Seselj, who once said he would like to gouge out the eyes of rival Croats with a rusty spoon, has been in custody in The Hague since surrendering in 2003.

He was charged with war crimes including planning the capture of towns in Croatia and Bosnia as part of a criminal plot involving other Serb leaders, including former strongman Slobodan Milosevic, to drive out non-Serbs using massive destruction and terror. He has pleaded not guilty to all charges.

Judges have delayed passing the verdict several times because of different legal obstacles during the often chaotic, marathon trial of the outspoken advocate of the Serb war campaigns. One of the three judges was removed from the case, another was chosen and he is reading evidence to see if they can reach a verdict.

U.N. prosecutors have demanded a 28-year prison sentence for Seselj. They said Seselj's hate speeches at rallies "planted the seeds of ethnic hatred and helped them grow into ethnic violence against non-Serbs."


Associated Press reporters Mike Corder in The Hague, Netherlands, and Aida Cerkez, in Sarajevo, Bosnia, and Jovana Gec in Belgrade contributed to this report.


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