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Saturday, 9 February, 2002, 17:51 GMT
Thousands rally in support of Milosevic
Slobodan Milosevic on trial at The Hague
Mr Milosevic's supporters say the UN is a "puppet"
More than 8,000 Serb supporters of former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic have held a rally in Belgrade, three days before he is due to stand trial in The Hague for war crimes.

Chanting "Freedom for Slobodan" and waving placards stating "Long live our Slobo", the mostly elderly supporters gathered in Belgrade's central Republic Square, the scene of many anti-Milosevic protests during his rule.


It is clear that this so-called trial in the so-called court in The Hague is a trial of the entire Serbian people and the entire state

Socialist Party leader Ivica Dacic
The rally was organised by Mr Milosevic's Socialist Party of Serbia and several of his former aides, who denounced the United Nations tribunal as a "puppet of the Western powers".

Former Prime Minister Mirko Marjanovic praised the former leader as "a true hero", saying Mr Milosevic had refused to "bow to the criminals who want to portray him as guilty for everything".

Trial imminent

A Socialist Party leader, Ivica Dacic, said that the UN trial was an attempt to bring in to disrepute the people of Serbia.

Serb woman holding a picture of former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic
Turnout was small compared to when Mr Milosevic was in power
"It is clear that this so-called trial in the so-called court in The Hague is a trial of the entire Serbian people and the entire state," he told Reuters news agency.

Mr Milosevic will face charges including crimes against humanity in Croatia in 1991 and Kosovo in 1999, and genocide in Bosnia during the period from 1992 to 1995. He has refused to appoint lawyers to defend him in the court, saying he does not recognise the authority of the UN tribunal.

'Madness'

The turnout was markedly small in contrast to the hundreds of thousands Mr Milosevic could have expected during his rule several years ago.

Some expressed disbelief that the former president, who lost power in October 2000, could still inspire supporters to protest.

"I thought that the madness was over, but it's not," one woman told the Associated Press news agency.

However others voiced their support, and condemned the present government for bowing to international pressure and surrendering Mr Milosevic to the UN.

"We must not allow them to judge the man who defended our dignity and our freedom," one supporter said.

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 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Paul Anderson
"Milosevic's supporters converged on Belgrade to demand the impossible"
See also:

28 Jun 01 | Europe
Milosevic's career in pictures
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