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Thursday, 25 July, 2002, 16:48 GMT 17:48 UK
Milosevic the bon viveur
Former Russian Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov (L) and Slobodan Milosevic
Milosevic reportedly arrived at negotiations the worse for wear
The news that former Yugoslav leader Slobodan Milosevic is in danger of a heart attack comes as no surprise to veteran Balkans watchers.

He may now observe the strict regime of a prison inmate, but when in power he was well known as a bon viveur who enjoyed his food and drink.


No, I did not get him drunk on plum brandy. I got him drunk on pear brandy

Slobodan Milosevic
His principal vices were a weakness for scotch whisky and fine Cuban cigars.

He also enjoyed a rich diet of roasted lamb, being especially fond of a traditional Yugoslav barbecue.

At Mr Milosevic's Belgrade residence, filled with antique furniture and French paintings, he would greet visitors with whisky glass and cigar in hand.

Late night drinking

Foreign dignitaries and journalists alike were invited to join him in late night drinking sessions where he would drink copious amounts of whisky - reportedly with little effect - puff away on a Montecristo and indulge in telling dirty jokes.

During one mid-morning meeting with US negotiator Richard Holbrooke, Mr Milosevic reportedly plied the American with brandy whilst hammering out a deal on Sarajevo.

Slobodan Milosevic smoking a cigar
He loved cigars, especially Cubans

When someone later objected that he had got Mr Holbrooke "drunk on plum brandy" Mr Milosevic replied: "No, I did not get him drunk on plum brandy. I got him drunk on pear brandy."

A spokeswoman from Mr Holbrooke's office flatly denied the story, telling BBC News Online:

"Ambassador Holbrooke never got drunk with Slobodan Milosevic. Even as a joke it is not funny given the seriousness of the negotiations."

Mr Milosevic also enjoyed wine, especially Californian varieties.

There are reports that sometimes Mr Milosevic would turn up to important negotiations a little the worse for wear.

Late for negotiations

One former US ambassador to Croatia - Peter Galbraith - remembers the first day of the 1995 peace talks in Dayton, Ohio, when Mr Milosevic was due to attend a meeting with Warren Christopher, the then US Secretary of State, and Croatian President Franjo Tudjman at 1600 (1400 GMT).

He arrived at 1635 looking somewhat ruffled, tie skew-whiff, straight from an afternoon at the officers' club.

"He'd obviously had a liquid lunch," Mr Galbraith said in an interview with Newsweek.

Even when police surrounded his home in the early hours of 1 April 2001 to arrest him, witnesses holed up inside said he lay on a sofa, dosed up on whisky and tranquilisers, smoking a cigar and cradling his pistol.

Little exercise

Another constant presence was the roast lamb.

Former US Assistant Deputy Secretary of State Robert Frasure had frequent meetings with Mr Milosevic in which he was plied with so much of the stuff that he once cabled Washington with the message, "the lambs of Serbia will be delighted that I'm leaving!"

The rotund Mr Milosevic is not known for being fond exercise either, unlike his late Croatian counterpart who was known for his vicious tennis game.

New regime

In fact, many observers argue that now he is in prison Mr Milosevic is in fact healthier than he has ever been.

He has access to a coffee machine, a library and satellite TV and can go to a gym, walk in the courtyard or play board games with his fellow inmates.

Nonetheless as his trial goes on, correspondents say it is apparent the strain of long hours in court and evenings spent preparing are taking their toll on Mr Milosevic, who is defending himself.

But old habits die hard: "He is a politician - he wants to do the talking," one of his Belgrade lawyers said.

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Jim Landale, UN War Crimes Tribunal
"He has a severe cardio vascular risk"

At The Hague

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28 Jun 02 | Europe
21 Mar 00 | Medical notes
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