Mon, Jul 05, 2004 - Page 7 News List

Milosevic starts his defense as Serbia looks the other way

AFP , BELGRADE

The people of Serbia will look on with deep cynicism as former Yugoslav president and Serbian nationalist Slobodan Milosevic launches his defense against war-crimes charges at The Hague this week.

Milosevic is due to make an opening statement in his self-defense today and the proceedings, as they have been for more than two years, will be broadcast live on TV throughout the Balkan republic.

But the broadcasts long ago lost their appeal in a country that is trying to move on rather than constantly relive the past. To many the proceedings have become little more than a tiresome soap opera starring a man most would rather forget.

Analysts expect few surprises, saying Milosevic will stick to his strategy of challenging the legitimacy of the UN war-crimes court while using the trial as a political platform to speak to the Serbian people.

"He has combined ignoring of the procedural side of the trial and the evidence, addressing more the domestic audience," journalist Nenad Stefanovic said in the weekly Vreme.

"Surely he will not give up such tactics" during his defense time, said Stefanovic, who has been covering the trial for Vreme.

At the start of the trial Milosevic announced that he would summon world leaders including former US president Bill Clinton and UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan to give evidence about the Balkans wars of the 1990s.

"There is no doubt that he will try [on Monday] to change places with the prosecution as he thinks that the trial should be held against those who have brought him there," Stefanovic said.

Sociologist Dragan Popovic estimated that the resumption of the trial would hardly "glue anyone to the television screen, although his supporters have not disappeared from Serbian soil."

"But even they have now realized that this will be a long process, with almost no chances for Milosevic to return to his homeland," Popovic said.

Last week, on the third anniversary of the former strongman's extradition to the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, only several hundred supporters gathered in Belgrade to demand his release.

Public interest in the almost daily TV coverage of the trial has waned from the start of proceedings, when it nearly brought the country to a standstill.

In a bid to revive the ratings of the broadcast on B92 TV, the only station which has constantly transmitted the proceedings, editors decided to combine the trial with "current affairs" programs.

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