Serbia braced yesterday for protests against the arrest of Bosnian Serb war crimes suspect Ratko Mladic amid fears of an outbreak of ultra-nationalist street violence.
Meanwhile, the acting head of the Hague-based UN war crimes tribunal said Mladic, 69, may be transferred today or tomorrow to the international court, where he faces charges of war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity.
“Mladic might come Monday or Tuesday. Due to international law, he will stand in front of a judge immediately,” said Mehmet Guney, acting president of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, according to Turkey’s Anatolia news agency.
From his cell in Serbia, Mladic — the alleged mastermind of the Srebrenica massacre and other atrocities during the 1992 to 1995 Bosnian war — called for calm ahead of yesterday’s protest, his lawyer said.
“He is appealing to people to calm down, there should be no bloodshed, he does not want to be a cause of unrest,” lawyer Milos Saljic told reporters on Saturday.
“He appeals for there to be no riots, for everything to be peaceful,” Saljic said.
The authorities have nonetheless stepped up security before the protest, called by the ultra-nationalist Radical Party (SRS), though they have promised it will be allowed to go ahead.
“The police will not use force in advance ... only if there is a drastic violation of public peace and order,” Serbian Interior Minister Ivica Dacic said.
“Security measures have been increased to a higher level,” including around state buildings and embassies, he said.
“We are taking all measures to prevent an escalation of violence by extremist groups,” he said.
After the arrest of Bosnian Serb wartime political leader Radovan Karadzic in July 2008, thousands of ultra-nationalists violently protested in Belgrade, leaving one dead.
SRS lawmaker Vjerica Radeta insisted yesterday’s rally would be peaceful.
“I don’t expect any incidents,” Radeta said. “Our call to citizens, to our members and to supporters of the Serbian Radical Party was public and it was an invitation to come to a peaceful demonstration.”
Far-right group 1389 also called for its supporters to join yesternday’s rally.
“Let us show to this regime of traitors that we are not afraid of their threats and repression and that we are ready to defend Serbian heroes,” it said in a statement.
Another protest organized by an association of Bosnian Serb former soldiers took place yesterday in the Bosnian village of Kalinovik, Mladic’s birthplace.
Mladic, still considered a war hero by many in Serbia, was arrested on Thursday and the next day ruled fit to be transferred to the UN court.
Mladic’s lawyer and family have said that he is too ill to be transferred to the Hague court and in a rare interview yesterday, his wife, Bosilijka, said he had suffered three strokes.
“He told me and our son that he had a severe stroke in 2008 and that it was the third. Since then, he has no feeling in the right side of his body,” Bosilijka Mladic said in the interview with the daily Vecernje Novosti.