Salute from the dock as 'Butcher of Bosnia' faces judges
The man wanted for the worst atrocity in Europe since World War II introduced himself to the panel of three war crimes judges with a salute and the words "I am General Mladic".
A few metres away in the public gallery, six women could not contain their emotion any longer, roaring: "Butcher! Monster!" at the man they hold responsible for the deaths of their husbands and sons at Srebrenica in 1995.
But Ratko Mladic, 69, arrested in Serbia last week and transferred on Tuesday to the Hague-based International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), did not hear them.
Soundproof windows blocked him off from the "Mothers of Srebrenica" and about 100 others, including diplomats, journalists and representatives of victims' organisations from the 1992-1995 Bosnian war in which 100,000 were killed and some 2.2 million others displaced.
Two police officers flanked the wartime commander of Bosnian Serb troops war, helping him get up as three judges enter the courtroom.
As they walked in, Mladic, dressed in a sky blue cap, grey suit and golden and black tie, rose like everybody else.
Then the two guards grabbed him under the arms and lifted him further out of his chair.
He looked at the three judges for a second, and then saluted them with his left hand, before sitting down and taking off his cap.
He listened impassively as the court's clerk read out his rights, before animatedly telling Dutch Judge Alphonse Orie that he was "gravely ill."
The judge then read out charges of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes against him.
He listened with folded arms, shaking his head occasionally to indicate his displeasure before calling the charges "obnoxious."
Two of the "Mothers of Srebrenica" started to wail as the judge recalled the atrocity in the enclave with the same name, in which about 8,000 Muslim men and boys were slaughtered in the worst massacre in Europe since World War II.
About an hour into the trial the court went into private session to discuss the former general's health.
In the public gallery visitors could see what's going on, but nobody could hear the exchange between Mladic and the judge.
The onlookers talked in low tones, while in front of them, Mladic could be seen gesturing grandly with his head towards the judge, making big hand movements, sometimes with a clenched fist, as if he was in a silent movie.
When the sound came back towards the end of the trial -- and when Judge Orie asked Mladic if he still had something to say, the former military chief turned to his right and looked at the public.
"I am General Mladic," he declares.
"I defended my country and my people," he throws at the public gallery adding defiantly "I do not fear any journalists or any nation or any country. I defended my country and my people. I now defend Ratko Mladic before you."
The hearing ends a short while later.
The "Mothers of Srebrenica" get up, visibly angry.
"My son is under the ground!" one of them shouts at Mladic as she leaves.
In the next-door courtroom Mladic's political alter ego, Radovan Karadzic was appearing -- as he has for the last 18 months.
Arrested in 2008 in Belgrade, he's facing the same charges as the former general.
Karadzic's trial started in October 2009.
© 2011 AFP