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Tuesday, 12 February, 2002, 13:51 GMT
Serbs stop work to watch trial
Serbs watch the opening of the trial in a Belgrade TV shop
Most viewers just watched the opening of the trial
No fewer than five Serbian television stations broadcast the opening of Slobodan Milosevic's trial and millions of Serbs tuned in to watch.

The BBC's Paul Anderson reports that the streets of Belgrade were deserted at the appointed hour, as people watched their former president take his seat in the courtroom.

Prosecutor Carla Del Ponte
Del Ponte: Serbians are not collectively on trial
But within an hour or two, he says, Serbs returned to their daily routine, reflecting the fact that the trial of Mr Milosevic - who was handed over to The Hague last June - has become little more than a distant curiosity for most.

There was however some interest in the opening remarks of prosecutor Carla Del Ponte, who said that Mr Milosevic, and not Serbia, was on trial in The Hague.

This point is critical to the Serbs, who fear they will have to pay massive reparations to Bosnians, Croatians and Kosovo Albanians if the people as a nation are deemed to be legally implicated in war crimes.

Forgotten 'hero'

Serbia's daily newspapers all headlined the story of the trial, with detailed accounts of the strategies likely to be pursued both by Mr Milosevic and those prosecuting him.

The daily Blic also reprinted a defence of Mr Milosevic launched by his wife, Mira Markovic, who told the New York Times that her husband and President George Bush had taken similar action in similar circumstances.

"He was a head of state and fought against terrorism. In a large part of the world people think of my husband as a hero," she said.

The pro-government daily, Politika, said the trial would focus on the question whether Mr Milosevic had given the orders which sparked the worst fighting seen in Europe since World War II.

Vecernje Novosti, published graphics showing the lay-out of Milosevic's cell and the courtroom, while Glas Javnosti predicted that Mr Milosevic would have an entire day for his opening speech.

Witnesses

But correspondents say that recent public debate has tended to focus as much on who will appear as witnesses in the tribunal, as it has on Mr Milosevic himself.

Several Serbian newspapers on Tuesday devoted columns to whether a former police general, Vlastimir Djordjevic, who was in charge of Kosovo during the war would testify against Mr Milosevic in exchange for immunity from prosecution.

Serbs are also concerned about the question of handing over further suspects, asking if the Western tribunal will ever be satisfied.

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 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Alan Little in Tuzla, Bosnia
"Some have been waiting for this day for years"
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