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Prosecutors to appeal acquittal of Serbian politician Vojislav Seselj in the Hague

Prosecutors at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia are to appeal the acquittal of Vojislav Seselj. The radical Serbian politician is accused of six counts of war crimes.

One of the prosecutors, Serge Brammertz, said the judge's ruling at the ICTY on March 31 had ignored a large body of evidence against Seselj.

"My office has decided to appeal the judgment," Brammertz said in a statement. He added that his team had identified "far reaching... errors" as well as "a fundamental failure" by the judges.

Prosecutors had demanded Seselj - a former deputy prime minister of Serbia, 61, who is being treated for cancer - be sentenced to 28 years in prison.

A blow to UN prosecutors

Seselj - who founded the Serbian Radical party -

was found on March 31 to have had no military "hierarchical responsibility" for the volunteers that he encouraged to join the Serb army.

His trial began in 2007 and heard 99 witnesses.

He had been charged with six counts of war crimes and three counts of crimes against humanity against the non-Serb population of Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina and the province of Vojvodina in Serbia during the Yugoslav wars in the early 1990s.

Right wing protesters wave flags with a picture of Serbian ultra nationalist leader Vojislav Seselj, during a protest against the arrest of war crimes suspect ex-Bosnian Serb leader Radovan c, in downtown Belgrade, 23 July 2008

Far-right protesters demonstrated against Karadzic's arrest in Belgrade in 2008

The accusations included that he incited torture, murder, forcible deportations and persecution on religious and racial grounds and was alleged to have propagated an "inflammatory policy" of uniting "all Serbian lands" in a single Serbian state, which he referred to as "Greater Serbia."

The ICTY said the prosecution's case had been full of "confusion"

and that "a lot of the evidence shows that his collaboration was aimed at defending the Serbs and the traditionally Serb territories or at preserving Yugoslavia, not at committing the alleged crimes."

"One of the key findings of the court was to note that while Vojislav Sesselj may have had a certain amount of moral authority over his party's volunteers, they were not his subordinates when they were engaged in military operations," the ICTY's presiding judge, Jean-Claude Antonetti, said.

Antonetti said the court had been unable to find beyond all reasonable doubt that Seselj had called for ethnic cleansing of Bosnia's non-Serbs.

The ruling came a week after former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic was sentenced to 40 years in prison after being found guilty of genocide over the 1995 massacre in Srebrenica.

An electoral asset?

The verdict is likely to boost the prospects of Seselj and his supporters ahead of Serbia's parliamentary elections on April 24.

Seselj still has strong support in Serbia and his Radical party is expected to do well in the elections called by Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic, who hopes to push through reforms aimed at bringing Serbia closer to the EU, something Seselj has strongly opposed.

jbh/bk (Reuters, AFP)

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