BELGRADE, Serbia – Thousands of supporters of war-crimes suspect Ratko Mladic rallied Sunday to protest the arrest of the man they revere as a national hero but whom much of the West considers a mass murderer.
Ultranationalists, government opponents and rowdy soccer fans gathered in front of the parliament building in Belgrade to wave Serbian flags and denounce Mladic’s capture and expected extradition this week to The Hague to face charges of genocide and crimes against humanity.
As darkness fell, a few clashes broke out as demonstrators threw rocks at riot police. Police said about 100 people were arrested; Serbian state television reported 18 people injured.
The Mladic supporters who showed up Sunday evening included members of the ultranationalist Serbian Radical Party bused in from other parts of the country.
The protesters condemned President Boris Tadic as a toady of the West and denied allegations that Mladic, as the Bosnian Serb military commander, ordered the killing of 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys in the town of Srebrenica in 1995. The atrocity has come to symbolize the brutality of the ethnic cleansing campaigns seen in the 1992-’95 Balkans war.
“Ratko Mladic is a hero for us. He fought for the Serbian people,” said soldier Zoran Petrovic, 35.
Others say Mladic, now 69, may not have been blameless but that he and other Serbian fighters have been unfairly singled out for blame.
Earlier Sunday, Mladic’s son, Darko, said his father was not responsible for the bloodshed in Srebrenica.
“His orders were to evacuate the wounded, the women and the children and then the fighters,” Darko Mladic said. “Whatever was done behind his back, he has nothing to do with that.”