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The BBC's Demeetha Luthra
"The change has brought accusations of treason and betrayal"
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The BBC's Dumeetha Luthra
"We will need to build a new Croatia"
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Sunday, 11 February, 2001, 22:53 GMT
Mass rally for war crimes suspect
Croatian nationalist rally
The opposition HDZ has organised protests
More than 100,000 Croatians have marched through the Adriatic port of Split to protest against attempts to arrest suspected war criminal General Mirko Norac.

Norac will not be tried in court for defending his country while we are alive

War veterans' spokesman
The general, who has gone into hiding, is suspected of involvement in the killing of 40 ethnic Serb civilians during fighting in the Gospic region in 1991.

Nationwide demonstrations in support of Norac, which have included roadblocks, are being led by Croatia's war veterans and supported by right-wing opposition leaders.

Under the late President, Franjo Tudjman, the then-ruling HDZ party was unwilling to examine Croatian war crimes.

The reformist Social Democrat government's reversal of policy has led to accusations of treason and betrayal, although some fear the case is being hijacked by the right for political purposes.

Gen Norac
General Norac, 33, is regarded as a war hero by some Croats
Speaking to the marchers in Split on Sunday, members of the HDZ made no secret of their desire to topple the government.

And war veterans' spokesman Mirko Condic told the crowds: "Norac will not be tried in court for defending his country while we are alive."

Protesters signed a declaration demanding an early election, immediate amnesty for all Croatian soldiers and suspension of co-operation with the UN war crimes tribunal, which is investigating a number of atrocities committed by Croat troops.

But the Croatian president, Stipe Mesic, said in a television broadcast that although General Norac had won great credit as a soldier, he must hand himself in.

'Democracy at stake'

Prime Minister Ivica Racan, whose government has been pursuing suspected war criminals since it took office last year, said that the country's fledgling democracy and judiciary were at stake.

He reacted angrily to the declaration, saying:"This is hardly a way to help democracy.

"Croatia is a law-governed state and the democratically elected authority wants to prove it."

The authorities and Norac's lawyer have indicated he may give himself up if he is allowed to walk into the court "with dignity" - and without handcuffs.

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28 Aug 00 | Europe
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