Hundreds of people have turned out to welcome home the leader of Serbia’s ultra nationalist party, Vojislav Seselj, following his release by a United Nations war crimes court for cancer treatment.
The ailing leader of the Radical Serb Party was greeted at Belgrade airport by a crowd chanting “Victory”.
The 60-year-old had been in detention for nearly 12 years, and had been awaiting a verdict for a string of alleged atrocities during the Balkans wars.
He underwent colon cancer surgery in December, but doctors say the cancer has now spread to his liver. Last week the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), which is based in The Netherlands, ordered his temporary release so he could receive further treatment.
Addressing jubilant supporters from the balcony of his party’s offices shortly after his arrival home, Mr Seselj labelled the court a “wounded globalist beast” and hit out at Serbia’s leaders, calling them “traitors” and “servants of the West”.
“(The judges) say (my release) is temporary. But it will be temporary only until we overthrow from power (President) Tomislav Nikolic and (Prime Minister) Aleksandar Vucic, our renegades and Serbian traitors,” Mr Seselj said.
Both men defected from Mr Seselj’s Radical Party in 2008, forming their own party which won the latest Serbian election.
Leader denies warcrimes
Mr Seselj voluntarily surrendered to the International Criminal Tribunal in 2003, after he was accused of leading ethnic Serb volunteers in persecuting Croats, Muslims and other non-Serbs during the 1990s Balkans conflicts. He went on trial four years later.
His trial concluded in 2012, but the court has yet to issue a verdict.
At his trial he pleaded not guilty to nine counts including murder, torture, cruel treatment and wanton destruction of villages. Prosecutors said he recruited and indoctrinated volunteers and paramilitaries who committed atrocities.
ICTY spokeswoman Magdalena Spalinska said the trial chamber granted his release due to his deteriorating health, saying it would give him the opportunity to get treatment in the “most appropriate conditions”.
His release is on condition that he does not interfere with victims or witnesses, and that he returns when summoned.
Prosecutors have demanded Mr Seselj receive a 28-year prison sentence but his release has put that in doubt.
Outrage in Bosnia and Croatia
Victims groups in neighbouring Bosnia and Croatia have expressed outrage at Mr Seslj’s release. Ahmed Grahic from the Association of Bosnian Prisoners of War said it had reopened old wounds.
“I have twelve wounds that have not healed yet. I have thousands of scars. Now, the Hague tribunal and representatives of the Hague tribunal have opened and cut my wounds again. I am bleeding again,” he said.
In the eastern Croatian town of Vukovar, which was overrun by Mr Seselj’s paramilitaries in 1991, resident Blazenka Posavec called for the 60-year-old to be punished.
“He should have been persecuted and punished. He was on trial, but there is no conviction. The town of Vukovar can never forgive, can never forget,” she said.