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Tuesday, 3 July, 2001, 12:59 GMT 13:59 UK
Milosevic trial underlines divides
Belgrade bar
People gathered in bars and cafes to watch the court footage
The dismissive, contemptuous first appearance of Slobodan Milosevic before the war crimes tribunal at The Hague both fascinated and divided Serbs.

He's defending our Serbian pride in front of those Western terrorists

Peca Ristic
Milosevic supporter
In Belgrade, many people gathered in cafes and bars to watch a live broadcast from the tribunal as Mr Milosevic made his appearance.

His dwindling number of supporters hailed his performance as a bravura display of Serb defiance.

"That's our Slobo, our hero. He's defending our Serbian pride in front of those Western terrorists and Serb haters," said Peca Ristic, a staunch Milosevic supporter.

Others spoke out in support of the trial. "I hope he gets what he deserves," said one woman.

"This character ruled this country for such a long time ... no wonder the country is in the state it is, we're lucky he's gone," said another.

Slobodan Milosevic
Milosevic refused to recognise the court
Ethnic Albanians in Kosovo - the targets of Mr Milosevic's brutal campaign of violence and terror - greeted his court appearance with a profound sense of satisfaction.

"It is so good to see him there, even though it is way too nice for him there," said Faton Ali, who watched the court procedings on television.

Elsewhere, feelings appeared more mixed.

Local papers devoted only brief articles to the hearing, and even opponents of Mr Milosevic appear to be ashamed that their former head of state is going on trial.

Pro-Milosevic demonstrator
Milosevic retains a hard core of support
The discovery of mass graves in a surburb of Belgrade has forced many Serbs to confront their past and reflect on what did happen in Kosovo during the war.

However, some believe the former strongman will not receive a fair trial and see his swift extradition as an example of "selective justice".

Others are angry that the government apparently handed Milosevic over at the behest of the international community in return for billions of dollars of aid.

Human rights campaigners believe it is important that Mr Milosevic be called to account for war crimes in an independent court outside Serbia.

War crimes chief prosecutor Carla del Ponte
Prosecutor Carla del Ponte: More charges being prepared
But prominent political analyst Aleksa Djilas believes that any trial should be held in Serbia to help with what he describes as a process of "moral catharsis" which the country must undergo.

"Serbia is on its way to becoming a democratic society, but there are democratic societies in the world which have not faced up to crimes committed in the past", he says.

"I think if we want to have a democratic society, it should be based on a moral foundation, and it will never be on a firm foundation if we don't see that there were crimes committed by people of our blood and nationality in our name."

The BBC's Jim Fish in Belgrade
"Many Serbs would like to put the past behind them."
See also:

30 Jun 01 | Europe
Serbs adjust to new reality
30 Jun 01 | Europe
Analysis: Milosevic's legacy
29 Jun 01 | Europe
New mass grave finds in Serbia
29 Jun 01 | Business
Yugoslavia wins $1.3bn aid pledges
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