Croatians rally for wartime 'heroes' jailed in The Hague
More than 1,000 supporters of jailed Croatian ex-general Ante Gotovina demonstrated in The Hague Saturday to denounce a war crimes court they say has unjustly punished Croatian heroes.
Gotovina and another former Croatian general, Mladen Markac, were in April convicted of war crimes against ethnic Serbs at the end of the 1990s conflict in Croatia.
The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) based in The Hague sentenced Gotovina to 24 years and Markac to 18.
"It's a shame, they freed our country, they made the Croatian war end. We protest today against the ICTY," said Danijel Lucic of the Croatian World Congress activist group, which organised the demonstration.
"He's a hero," Lucic told AFP, referring to Gotovina.
The demonstrators, including many Croatians who travelled from Austria, France and Germany, as well as Croatia, waved their country's national flag during the rally, which organisers said was attended by 1,500 people.
The protestors gathered about three kilometres (1.9 miles) from the ICTY said they wanted to show support both for Gotovina and other top Croatian generals targeted by the court.
The verdicts against Gotovina, 55, and Markac, 56, shocked Croatia, including its leading officials, where many see the country's top wartime officers as national heroes.
"It hurts me to see Ante Gotovina in prison," said Ivica Zoko, 40, a veteran of the Croatian war.
"We were just defending (ourselves). It is the Serbs who attacked us," he added.
Gotovina and Markac were found guilty of conspiring with the Zagreb wartime leadership to kill or expel ethnic Serbs during and after an August 1995 military operation.
Croatia's proclamation of independence from the former Yugoslavia sparked the 1991-1995 war, with ethnic Serbs, backed by Belgrade, opposing the move.
© 2011 AFP