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Last Updated: Tuesday, 19 February 2002, 19:22 GMT
Analysis: Milosevic shines as lawyer

By Jon Silverman
The Hague

If Slobodan Milosevic had decided to use his law degree to practise as a barrister, instead of becoming a banker-turned-politician, he would almost certainly have been a striking success.

Slobodan Milosevic
Mr Milosevic's questions were crisp and probing
Warned at the outset by Judge Richard May not to harass or intimidate the first prosecution witness, Mahmut Bakalli, he stuck, by and large, within the rules.

Mr Milosevic's questions were crisp and probing, except for the last 30 minutes of the three-and-a-half-hour cross-examination when the former Yugoslav president became a little ragged and succumbed to the temptation to make political points.

Mr Bakalli, by contrast, looked unsettled at times. He paid the price of having made a number of generalisations in his evidence which were undermined during close questioning.

Mr Milosevic skilfully manipulated the witness

Mr Milosevic had evidently listened well to Mr Bakalli when he gave his testimony on Monday.

The former Albanian Communist leader had talked about a state of apartheid being introduced into Kosovan education following the upsurge of Serb nationalism. It was a phrase eagerly noted by journalists in court.

But Mr Milosevic pointed out that it hardly met the UN's definition of apartheid and after several minutes he had Mr Bakalli floundering.

Another direct hit was scored over Mr Bakalli's assertion that the Kosovan constitution had been changed, against the interests of the Albanians, following a speech made by Mr Milosevic in Pristina in 1989.

Kosovo Albanian politician Mahmut Bakalli
Mr Bakalli appeared flustered under cross-examination
Mr Milosevic was able to demonstrate that the change had been made three months before the speech.

Mr Milosevic also skilfully manipulated the witness into making a number of statements which exposed his blind spot towards Albanian criminality and violence.

"Do you know about drug trafficking through Kosovo?" asked Mr Milosevic.

"No."

"What about arms trafficking?"

"No."

Both replies were patently absurd, as the judges must have noted.

Ensnared

If the purpose of the cross-examination was to offer another interpretation of testimony which, on first telling, appeared rock solid, then Mr Milosevic did what he needed to do.

The sight of Mr Bakalli rubbing his forehead and wiping his dry mouth as he became ensnared was an enduring image of the confrontation.

Judge May was perhaps more charitable towards the defendant than he had a right to expect - some of the questions strayed well off the point.

But this was, on the whole, a witness able to take care of himself.

It will be more than interesting to see how the court handles the cross-examination of survivors of violence and deportations, whose vulnerability Mr Milosevic might be tempted to exploit.




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