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Profile: Vojislav Seselj

The leader of Serbia's largest party is now better known for sparring with prosecutors in The Hague than for practising politics in Belgrade.

Vojislav Seselj
Vojislav Seselj: Ultranationalist maverick

Vojislav Seselj has spent the last four years in the dock on war crimes charges while the party he leads has become Serbia's most influential opposition group.

His image is still used on party propaganda - but his influence is said to have weakened, with delays to his trial keeping him out of the public eye for long periods.

Mr Seselj's supporters will hope the resumption of proceedings against him in The Hague revives his fortunes and gives him a chance to defend his reputation.

He has used past televised court appearances as a platform for his wit and views, ridiculing the court's formality and accusing it of bias against the Serbs.

A hardline nationalist, Mr Seselj is one of the last surviving leaders from the political class that propelled the Serb-dominated Yugoslav state through the Balkan wars of the 1990s.

He is accused of plotting to murder, torture and illegally imprison non-Serbs during the conflict.

He turned himself in to The Hague in 2003, but has remained the figurehead of the Serbian Radical Party (SRS).

Provocative outbursts

Vojislav Seselj was a brilliant student, becoming the youngest PhD holder in Yugoslavia, and going on to teach first at Michigan and then at Sarajevo universities.

Mr Seselj in Vukovar in 1991
1954 born in eastern Herzegovina
1984 jailed for criticising Communists
1990 sets up SRS
1991 elected to Serbian Assembly
1993 forces dissolution of Serbian parliament
1999 resigns as vice-president in Serbian Government
2002 stands in Serbian presidential elections
2003 indicted by war crimes tribunal

He got into trouble early in his career for writing an unpublished article calling for Yugoslavia to be replaced with a Serb-dominated entity and was jailed for two years.

After his release, he moved to Belgrade where he fell out of favour with the academic community because of his provocative outbursts, but became a rising figure on the political scene.

He grasped the moment in 1990 when, as the Yugoslav Federation began to crumble, he established the SRS.

He presented himself as the successor to the nationalist Chetnik fighters of World War II.

A string of paramilitary groups - including the Chetniks, the White Eagles and the Seseljovci - were set up among his supporters.

In the early years of the war his public statements included the threat to blow up the nuclear power station at Krsko in Slovenia and the warning to Nato that air strikes against the Bosnian Serbs would be avenged with missile attacks on targets in Italy, Austria and Croatia.

The groups fought in the Bosnian and Croatian wars with the backing of former Yugoslav leader Slobodan Milosevic and are accused of committing a string of atrocities.

As long ago as the end of 1992, Mr Seselj was among seven prominent individuals who then-US Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger suggested should be investigated for war crimes. He denies the charges.

Break with Milosevic

As the battle for Bosnia unfolded, Mr Seselj was becoming a crucial ally of Mr Milosevic in parliament.

He indoctrinated [paramilitary units] with his extreme ethnic rhetoric so that they engaged in the forcible removal of the non-Serb population... with particular violence and brutality
Tribunal indictment
But Mr Seselj broke with his protector in 1993, when Mr Milosevic appeared to endorse a peace plan and withdraw support from the Bosnian Serbs.

Mr Milosevic was forced to dissolve parliament and rounded on Mr Seselj, calling him "the personification of violence and primitivism".

In the slanging match which followed, Mr Seselj implicated Mr Milosevic, his police and high-ranking members of his government in alleged atrocities.

But it was Kosovo which brought the two rivals together again, uniting them in a new wave of nationalist fervour.

Mr Seselj was uncompromising in his views, reportedly saying of the Kosovo Albanians: "Their country is Albania and they should live there. The only Albanians who should live here are the ones who think of Serbia as their fatherland."

Spoiling for a fight

From his prison cell at the Hague, Mr Milosevic urged his supporters to back Mr Seselj in the 2002 Serbian presidential elections, winning him 23% and third place in the first round of voting.

Slobodan Milosevic
Slobodan Milosevic was both an ally and a rival to Mr Seselj
Facing incumbent president Vojislav Kostunica in the second round, he pushed for a boycott - thereby helping to invalidate the whole process by dropping turn-out below the necessary 50%.

In the re-run of the election he came second, but the turnout was still too low.

However, the populism that appealed to voters in the presidential poll also saw Mr Seselj through parliamentary polls in 2003 and has kept his party relevant even after the death of his old ally while in custody at The Hague.

His SRS is thought to have struck a chord most with those who suffered from the economic disasters that beset post-Milosevic Serbia.

As his party continues to harry the reform-oriented government in Serbia, Mr Seselj is expected to follow in the footsteps of his one-time political protector, Mr Milosevic, and use his war crimes trial to air some of the uncompromising views he has become famous for.

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