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UEFA charges Russia's Zenit with racism over Ratko Mladic banner

UEFA opened disciplinary proceedings against Saint Petersburg-based Zenit FC after its fans displayed a large banner praising Serbian war criminal Ratko Mladic.

Zenit fans hold up a banner saying 'Ratko Mladic - Serbian hero' in Russian (imago/ZUMA Press/M. Konstantinov)

The Russian-language banner described Mladic as a 'hero'

Russia's Zenit faced a racism charge on Friday after its Ultras, extreme right-wing football fans, unfurled a banner with the words: "Ratko Mladic - Serbian hero" at a game against Macedonian Vardar.

The European football governing body UEFA charged the Saint Petersburg club with "racist behavior." The date of the hearing is yet to be announced.

The incident happened during Thursday's Europa League game in Saint Petersburg, which Zenit won 2-1.

The game was played a day after the 74-year-old Mladic, also known as "the Butcher of Bosnia," received a life sentence in the Hague Tribunal for war crimes. The court found Mladic guilty on ten different counts, including the Srebrenica genocide which killed around 8,000 Muslim men and boys.

Read more: Ratko Mladic found guilty at Bosnian war crimes trial

During the reading of the verdict, Mladic loudly rejected the findings and was ultimately removed from the courtroom.

Serb clubs avoid naming Mladic in their tributes

Serbian nationalists view Mladic, and his wartime political leader Radovan Karadzic, as national heroes. This point of view is shared among right-wing groups in Serbia's traditional ally, Russia.

Read more: Serbia and Russia criticize Karadzic genocide verdict

Watch video 00:48

Ratko Mladic shouting at ICTY judge

The two dominant Serbian football clubs, Red Star and Partizan, also face charges of racism for the messages displayed at their respective games on Thursday. Unlike Zenit fans, the fans of the two Serbian teams avoided mentioning Mladic by name.

"Even if you receive a hundred life sentences, you are still praised by honorable Serbs," read a banner displayed at the Red Star game against BATE Borisov in Belarus, while Partizan fans displayed a message during a game against Swiss Young Boys reading "May your mother have (our) thanks" with a symbol worn by Mladic during his trial.

Despite the fans not mentioning Mladic by name, UEFA said that both clubs would be probed over racist behavior.

dj/jm (Beta, AP)

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