A Serbian ultranationalist has vowed to breathe new life into a party he led until he handed himself in to a war crimes court in The Hague. The court recently released him on grounds of ill-health.
At least 5,000 people turned out to a rally in the Serbian capital, Belgrade on Saturday, to hear a speech by indicted war crimes suspect Vojislav Seselj.
He returned to Serbia on Wednesday after being provisionally released by The Hague-based International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY).
Some accounts put the number of people who attended Saturday's rally as high as 10,000. Many carried Serbian flags or banners bearing the faces of Seselj or Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The 60-year-old Seselj used the speech to denounce the Serbian government of Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic as well as President Tomislav Nikolic.
"We won't wait for the government's full term to pass. We'll have elections next year. We need a new economic policy," Seselj said, playing on widespread anger over pension and public sector wage cuts introduced by the government two months ago.
Former political friends
Both Vucic and Nikolic are former members of Seselj's ultranationalist Radical Party of Serbia, but they split from the party in 2008 to form a more moderate conservative party which supports Belgrade's bid to join the European Union.
Seselj said that instead of implementing reforms aimed at gaining EU membership, Belgrade needed to intensify its already close historical ties with Moscow.
"We want integration with Russia. We do not want the European Union. That is where our enemies are," he said.
A decade in detention
Seselj spent almost 12 years in detention at the ICTY after turning himself in in 2003. He faces numerous charges, including inciting others to commit murder, and ethnic cleansing, stemming from the wars in Croatia and Bosnia in the early 1990s. Seselj has pleaded not guilty to all the charges against him but a verdict still has not been reached.
Seselj, who has been diagnosed as suffering from colon and liver cancer, was provisionally released on Wednesday.
Under theterms of his temporary release, the court said he was to avoid any contact with his alleged victims or witnesses in his war-crimes case and to return to The Hague if summoned by the judges. Since returning to Belgrade, Seselj has said he would not return voluntarily.
His release has sparked outrage among victims' groups
pfd/ipj (Reuters, AFP)