More than 100 people have been arrested after clashes between hardcore nationalist supporters of jailed war crimes suspect Ratko Mladic and riot police erupted Sunday in Belgrade at a rally demanding his release.
Baton-wielding police fought running battles with small groups throwing stones and bottles, overturning garbage cans, breaking traffic lights and setting off firecrackers. The skirmishes took place in several locations in the centre of the Serbian capital.
Officials say 16 people, including six policemen, were taken to hospital with minor injuries.
The clashes came after an estimated crowd of 7,000 demonstrators, many singing nationalist songs and carrying banners honouring Mladic, poured into the street outside Serbia's parliament to demand the release of the wartime Bosnian commander, whom they consider a hero.
They joined dozens of ultra-nationalists protesting in towns across Serbia and in Bosnia on Sunday.
Mladic, a former Bosnian Serb army commander, was arrested Thursday after 16 years on the run from genocide charges issued by a United Nations war crimes court.
Mladic, Karadzic may be tried together
The arrest of Ratko Mladic could become a factor in the UN trial of Radovan Karadzic, the alleged mastermind of Bosnian Serb atrocities during the 1992-95 war, Karadzic's defence lawyer says.
Attorney Peter Robinson said that Karadzic's trial in The Hague is only about 20 per cent completed. He said judges may decide to try Mladic and Karadzic together.
Robinson said Karadzic's defence team must decide whether to continue the trial or to seek a halt and work with Mladic's defence team.
Karadzic was captured nearly three years ago, in disguise on a bus in Belgrade. The former Bosnian Serb leader is the highest-profile figure brought before the Yugoslav war crimes tribunal since former president Slobodan Milosevic, who died before his trial ended.
Mladic is charged with planning the killing of close to 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys in Srebrenica, as well as other atrocities committed by his troops during Bosnia's war between 1992 and 1995. Now, Mladic insists he had no knowledge of the massacre, in a message relayed by his son Darko on Sunday.
"Whatever was done in Srebrenica, he has nothing to do with it," Darko Mladic was quoted as saying.
The Serbian Radical Party and other groups bused in supporters from across the country for an evening rally outside the parliament in Belgrade. Other demonstrations are being held in towns in Bosnia as well, including in Kalinovik, the area where Mladic grew up.
Security has been tightened all over the country. In 2008, a similar rally over the arrest of former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic turned violent, leaving one person dead.
Mladic, 69, is expected to be transferred from Belgrade to the UN international tribunal in The Hague within days to be tried for war crimes, possibly joining his former ally Radovan Karadzic, on trial for some of the worst horrors of the Balkan wars.
According to officials in Belgrade, Mladic offered no resistance when he was arrested at his cousin's house in the farming village of Lazarevo, 60 kilometres from Belgrade.
On Saturday, his defence lawyer, Milos Saljic, said his client is awareness of the extradition process but is in a "very confused state."
Mladic's son also spoke of his father's mental state.
"We are convinced now that he has certain mental difficulties concerning his ability to recognize his situation in full, what it is," he said.
Darko says his father is adamant that the massacre was committed without his knowledge — something that prosecutors have argued is impossible because of the scope of the killings.
"His orders were to evacuate the wounded, the women and the children and then the fighters. Whatever was done behind his back, he has nothing to do with that," Darko Mladic said Sunday.
The wartime general is expected to be transferred to The Hague as early as Monday or Tuesday, Turkey's Anatolia news agency said Sunday, quoting the tribunal's acting president.
His lawyer has said he plans to lodge an appeal on Monday against the extradition.
Meanwhile, Mladic's son, wife and daughter-in-law paid him a visit in jail on Sunday. Permission has been granted for family members to visit him for two hours per day.
Mladic's lawyer on Sunday described his client's health as being "much worse than yesterday" and said doctors should evaluate his condition.
"His mental condition is worse," said Saljic, who added that "it's almost impossible to make normal contact to talk with him about usual things and discuss his defence."