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Pro-Karadzic rally broken up after violent clashes

Latest update : 2008-07-30

Police fired tear gas to break up scuffles with youths during a demonstration by hardline Serbian nationalists in support of war crimes suspect Radovan Karadzic. At least 25 police and 19 civilians were injured in the riots.

Stone-throwing hooligans clashed in Belgrade Tuesday with Serbian riot police who replied with rubber bullets and tear gas after a rally against Radovan Karadzic's looming transfer to the UN war crimes court.

The violence erupted at the end of the ultra-nationalist protest rally in Belgrade's main square, which drew more than 15,000 hardliners opposed to the arrest a week ago of the Bosnian Serb genocide suspect.

Many people were injured, among them 25 police and 19 civilians, including a Spanish and a Serbian journalist, hospital officials said.

But rumours swirled in Belgrade that Karadzic's transfer would happen in the coming hours, although this could not be confirmed.

His lawyer Svetozar Vujacic said he had "contradictory information" on a possible transfer, claiming he did not know when the former Bosnian Serb leader would be in The Hague, B92 television reported late Monday.

According to "unofficial information" Karadzic is still in his cell at Serbia's special war crimes court and "will not be transferred" to the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in The Hague overnight Monday, B92 said.

The network showed footage of a four-vehicle police motorcade -- among them two jeeps with tainted windows -- but it was impossible to say who was in the cars.

State television RTS also reported seeing the motorcade leaving the court premises around 0:30 am (2230 GMT Monday), saying there "is no information available that Karadzic was in any of the vehicles."

Once he arrives in The Hague, Karadzic is to be tried for some of the bloodiest atrocities in Europe since World War II -- the siege of the Bosnian capital Sarajevo and the Srebrenica massacre.

At the end of the rally organised by the ultra-nationalist Radical Party, between 100 and 200 football hooligans, most of them drunk teenagers, broke away and swarmed on the riot police, hurling stones and firecrackers at them.

They continued to hurl whatever they could get their hands on at the security forces despite calls for them to refrain from doing so by Radical Party leader Tomislav Nikolic during his closing speech.

"Do not do it, children, we did not gather for that, we do not want to destroy Belgrade, but rather Boris Tadic," he said, referring to the pro-Western Serbian president his party accuses of treachery over Karadzic's arrest.

The riot police responded with rubber bullets and tear gas, driving back and trying to disperse the youths, many of them in hooded sports tops, into streets surrounding the Republic Square.

One of them, running away from the tear gas, accused the police of "abusing us just for being Serbian patriots."

After almost half an hour of skirmishes, the rioters were dispersed, and an eerie calm returned to central Belgrade with police still holding cordons to prevent hooligans from regrouping.

The streets where the clashes took place were covered with debris and broken glass, while a pile of plastic beer bottles were seen laying in front of the police.

Another anti-riot unit was positioned in front of a McDonalds restaurant in central Belgrade's Terazije avenue, which was virtually destroyed in rioting in February against Kosovo's declaration of independence.

Then, 150,000 demonstrators protested Kosovo's declaration of independence from Serbia in a demonstration that sparked attacks on Western embassies, rioting and looting that left one youth dead.

Top police official Milorad Veljovic said in a statement that "the situation in Belgrade is under control" after the riots.

The rally began around three hours before the unrest with Serbian nationalist songs played as the crowd chanted Karadzic's name.

In his speech, Nikolic said Tadic "must not decide who will be free and who will be in prison, not for a month, not for a day."

Karadzic's brother Luka, for his part, used the rally to call on the Belgrade government to try him in Serbia.

Karadzic was arrested on July 21 while on a suburban bus in Belgrade, after more than a decade on the run disguised as a alternative health specialist in "human quantum energy."

The speculation that his transfer to the The Hague was imminent came after Karadzic's legal team succeeded in delaying his transfer to the UN tribunal there at least for another day.

Once it is received, a three-judge panel of the court has three days to decide on its merits before the justice ministry issues a final order for the transfer.

But Dusan Ignjatovic, head of the Serbian government office for cooperation with the UN tribunal, expressed doubts about the appeal, which Karadzic's brother Luka has said was sent by regular mail.

While in hiding, Karadzic completely changed his appearance and identity, styling himself as Doctor Dragan Dabic and sporting large spectacles, long white hair and a bushy beard.


Date created : 2008-07-30