[an error occurred while processing this directive]
BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
Languages
Last Updated: Sunday, 11 December 2005, 15:40 GMT
Massive rally for Croatia suspect
Rally in Split
Many Croats are proud of Gotovina's war record
Tens of thousands of people have taken part in a rally in support of Croatian war crimes suspect Gen Ante Gotovina.

The rally, in the city of Split, comes as the retired general prepares for his first appearance before the UN war crimes tribunal at The Hague on Monday.

"We were defended by a hero, not a criminal," read some of the banners alongside pictures of the suspect.

Gen Gotovina was arrested in Spain on Wednesday. He faces charges over the deaths of about 150 Serb civilians.

He was indicted in 2001. The charges of persecution and war crimes stem from an offensive to chase Serbs from their self-declared republic of Krajina in Croatia in August 1995.

About 200,000 Serbs - many elderly - were forced out of the region during the offensive known as "Operation Storm".

His [Gotovina's] trial is a trial of the Croatian people
Zeljko Strize
Croatian war veteran

A lawyer for the 50-year-old has said Gen Gotovina will probably plead not guilty to the charges.

Gen Gotovina was seized in Spain's Canary Islands after four years on the run.

He was transferred to the UN tribunal's detention unit on Saturday.

He was the tribunal's third most-wanted man after the former Bosnian Serb political and military leaders Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic, who remain at large.

'Symbol'

Many of the participants at Sunday's rally in Split carried large photographs of the indictee - as the Croatian national anthem was played out.

GEN ANTE GOTOVINA
Gen Gotovina in Spanish custody
Born 12 Oct 1955
Fought in French Foreign Legion
Commanded Croatian forces against Serb forces in Krajina region, 1995
Early retirement, 2000
Indicted for war crimes in Krajina, 2001
Arrested in Tenerife, Dec 2005

"Ante Croatia", "General, we are with you!", "We were defended by a hero, not a criminal" - read some of the banners, held by demonstrators some of whom wore black t-shirts with the caption "Ante Gotovina - pride of his homeland."

"For us Ante Gotovina is more than a general. He is a symbol of the Croatian people and his trial is a trial of the Croatian people," said Zeljko Strize, head of a local war veterans' association which organised the rally.

"From this gathering I want to send him a message: Ante we are all by your side!"


BBC NEWS: VIDEO AND AUDIO
See the former General being arrested



SEE ALSO:
EU launches Croatia discussions
04 Oct 05 |  Europe


RELATED INTERNET LINKS:
The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites



PRODUCTS AND SERVICES

Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific