Vojislav Seselj has been found not guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity over the Balkan wars in the 1990s.
The UN war crimes court at The Hague said the Serbian ultra-nationalist had neither borne individual responsibility for the crimes, nor known about them nor endorsed them.
Vojislav Seselj had denied the charges. In his first reaction, he said the court had reached the only verdict possible.
Croatia’s prime minister condemned the verdict as “shameful”.
The UN tribunal’s prosecutor Serge Brammertz said his office would decide later whether to appeal.
“I’m absolutely convinced that the victims’ communities and many people will not be satisfied with this outcome,” Serge Brammertz said.
Vojislav Seselj was allowed to go to Belgrade in 2014 after being diagnosed with cancer and was not present in the courtroom.
He had even refused the tribunal’s offer to follow the verdict by video link.
The radical has been taking part in anti-government rallies ahead of Serbian parliamentary elections in April.
Vojislav Seselj was a close ally of the late Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic. He served as Serbian deputy prime minister from 1998 to 2000.
He surrendered to the UN court (the ICTY) voluntarily in 2003. When the ICTY sought to appoint a defense lawyer against his wishes, he went on hunger strike.
The indictment charged Vojislav Seselj with three counts of crimes against humanity and six of war crimes for inciting ethnic cleansing in Croatia, Bosnia and the Serbian province of Vojvodina in the period August 1991-September 1993.
On the most serious charge of crimes against humanity, presiding Judge Jean-Claude Antonetti said the prosecution “had failed to prove beyond all reasonable doubt that there was a widespread and systematic attack against the non-Serb civilian population in large areas of Croatia and Bosnia.
“The evidence tendered and considered establishes instead that there was an armed conflict between enemy military forces with civilian components.”
Prosecutors had argued Vojislav Seselj was criminally responsible for the murder, torture and deportation of non-Serbs as part of his project to create a “Greater Serbia”.
They had accused him of raising an army of volunteers who committed “unspeakable crimes”.
However, the trial chamber found that there was no “criminal purpose in sending volunteers” – and, moreover, they had not been under Vojislav Seselj’s command.
“The majority simply notes that it is not satisfied that the recruitment and subsequent deployment of volunteers implies that Vojislav Seselj knew of these crimes on the ground, or that he instructed or endorsed them,” it said.
The verdict also concluded that the “Greater Serbia” plan Vojislav Seselj had supported was not a “criminal”, but “political”, project.
Croatian PM Tihomir Oreskovic criticised the outcome as “a defeat for the Hague tribunal and the prosecution”.
Vojislav Seselj had consistently berated the tribunal, challenging its legitimacy – and regretting the fact that it could not pass a death sentence on him.
On March 31, Vojislav Seselj said he wanted 14 million euro in compensation against the UN tribunal.
Thousands of refugees have been stranded at borders in the Balkans, in cold and wet conditions, after Hungary closed its borders with Croatia.
Several hundred, including young children and babies, spent the night in the open at Croatia’s border with Slovenia.
The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) also complained of a lack of basic supplies at the Serbia-Croatia border.
The western Balkan route has been disrupted by government restrictions.
Hundreds of thousands of refugees, many from Syria, Africa and Afghanistan, have been making their way from Turkey to the Balkans in recent months, in a bid to reach Germany, Sweden and other EU states.
Slovenia decided at the weekend to restrict the numbers crossing its territory in response to what it said was Austria’s new policy of cutting the numbers entering – something Austria denies.
More than 10,000 refugees are now stranded in Serbia, barred from entering Croatia, according the UNHCR.
“There is a lack of food, lack of blankets – we are missing everything,” spokeswoman Melita Sunjic told Reuters.
On the Croatia-Slovenia border, 500 people spent the night in the open at Trnovec. Police have now allowed them to shelter under canopies attached to immigration huts.
A further 1,800-2,000 slept on a train held on the Croatian side of the border.
Officials told them they could stay temporarily in Croatia or try to make their own way into Slovenia.
Croatia had asked its northern neighbor Slovenia to accept 5,000 refugees daily, but Slovenia said it would only take half that number.
Explaining Slovenia’s new restrictions on October 18, Interior Ministry State Secretary Bostjan Sefic said its northern neighbor Austria was only accepting a maximum of 1,500 people a day.
He said that Slovenia “cannot accept unlimited numbers of migrants if we know that they cannot continue their journey”.
Hungary, citing security concerns, has closed its borders with Serbia and Croatia, forcing refugees to switch to a slower route via Slovenia.
There are reports in Slovenian media that restrictions on its borders with Austria and Croatia are being eased.
Germany’s welcome for Syrian refugees continues to create internal political tensions.
The Pegida organization, which campaigns against immigration, says it expects tens of thousands to demonstrate in the eastern city of Dresden on October 19.
Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere has described Pegida as “hard-right extremists”.
More than 600,000 people, most of them Syrians, have reached Europe so far this year compared with just over 200,000 for the whole of 2014.
Germany has said it expects 800,000 asylum seekers in 2015, but it is believed the number could be as high as 1.5 million.
Dozens of refugees have reached Croatia – opening up a new route to northern EU countries, a day after Hungary sealed its border with Serbia.
The refugees crossed into Croatia, an EU member, from Serbia.
Croatia says it is ready to receive them or “direct” them to where they want to go. Many migrants – mainly Syrian – are hoping to reach Germany.
New border restrictions and a row over allocating migrants have shown bitter divisions in Europe over the crisis.
Hundreds of refugees remain stranded outside or in makeshift tents near the Serbian border with Hungary.
On September 15, Hungary declared a state of emergency in the border area, with hundreds of army and police deployed to enforce new laws making it an offence to breach a razor-wire border fence.
Police sealed a railway crossing point near Roszke which had been used by tens of thousands of migrants to enter the European border-free Schengen zone.
The move has all but stopped the inflow.
On September 16, Hungarian police said they had detained 367 refugees entering illegally – and the first criminal proceedings have been launched.
The EU’s border agency says more than 500,000 refugees have arrived at the EU’s borders so far this year, compared with 280,000 in 2014.
Many are fleeing conflict and poverty in countries including Syria, where a civil war has been raging since 2011.
The refugees have been crossing from Turkey, with about 1,000 in the city of Edirne on September 16, waiting to organize a crossing into Greece. Their journey would then take them to Macedonia and Serbia.
Until September 15, most poured into Schengen member Hungary and crossed into Austria to reach Germany. Both Germany and Austria have introduced tighter border controls to control the flow.
A group of about 40 refugees arrived in the border town of Sid in Serbia on September 16. They had travelled by bus from the Serbian town of Presevo near the Macedonian border in the south.
They crossed into Croatia where police began registering them.
Croatia’s PM Zoran Milanovic told parliament that authorities were “entirely ready to receive or direct those people where they want to go, which is obviously Germany or Scandinavian countries”.
“They will be able to pass through Croatia and we will help, we’re getting ready for that possibility,” he said.
A meeting of the Croatian National Security Council has been called to co-ordinate the response.
Croatian media have warned of the dangers posed by landmines dating back to Croatia’s war of independence in the early 1990s, even though experts say the areas are clearly marked.
The Serbian minister in charge of the government’s working committee on migrants, Aleksandar Vulin, argued that the closure of the border by Hungary was unsustainable for Serbia.
Hungary has said it could extend its fence to the border with Romania – a possible new route.
Romania said this would violate the “European spirit” of co-operation.
Liberland is the name of a new European country established by Czech national Vit Jedlicka.
The new country on “no man’s land” is located at the border of Serbia and Croatia.
Vit Jedlicka, a member of the conservative Party of Free Citizens in the Czech Republic, is the self-appointed president of Liberland, which he says sits on unclaimed terra nullius territory wedged between Serbia and Croatia.
The 3-square-mile “country”, where taxes are optional and a military is nonexistent, does not “interfere with the territory” of the two states, according to Liberland’s website.
Liberland is located on the west bank of the Danube river between Croatia and Serbia, on land which has been subject to a decades-long border dispute and therefore, according to Vit Jedlicka, a “terra nuillius” or no man’s land, before the institution of his state on April 13.
President Vit Jedlicka is in the process of writing the country’s constitution, which, in keeping with the country’s name, “significantly limits the power of politicians so they could not interfere too much in the freedoms of the Liberland nation”.
Liberland is currently accepting applications for citizenship from applicants who: “Have respect for other people and respect the opinions of others, regardless of their race, ethnicity, orientation, or religion, have respect for private ownership, which is untouchable, do not have communist, nazi or any other extremist past, and were not punished for past criminal offences.”
Prospective citizens must send their application via email, since “in the territory of Liberland there is no physical location for mail delivery yet”.
The International Court of Justice has ruled that neither Croatia nor Serbia committed genocide against each other’s populations during the Balkan wars that followed the collapse of Yugoslavia in the 1990s.
The Croatian government had alleged that Serbia committed genocide in the town of Vukovar and elsewhere in 1991.
Serbia later filed a counter-claim over the expulsion of more than 200,000 Serbs from Croatia.
About 20,000 people died during the 1991-1995 war, mostly Croatians.
The Croatian town of Vukovar was devastated when it was occupied by Serbs for three months in 1991. Tens of thousands of ethnic Croats were displaced, and about 260 Croat men were detained and killed.
Four years later, the Croatian military’s Operation Storm bombarded the majority ethnic-Serb Krajina area, forcing about 200,000 people from their homes.
Speaking in UN’s highest court on February 3, Judge Peter Tomka dismissed both the Croatian claim and the Serbian counter-claim.
Forces on both sides had carried out violent acts during the war, Judge Tomka said. However, neither side had provided sufficient evidence to demonstrate the “specific intent required for acts of genocide”.
FIFA’s World Cup 2014 begins today with Brazil opening the tournament against Croatia.
The month-long tournament sees 32 nations compete for a place in the final in Rio on Sunday, July 13.
The opening match will be preceded by a ceremony in Sao Paulo that pays tribute to nature, people and football.
Last year more than a million people took to the streets of major Brazilian cities to protest against what they see as excessive spending on the World Cup.
World Cup 2014 opening match will be preceded by a ceremony in Sao Paulo that pays tribute to nature, people and football
Brazil’s government is keen to prevent a repeat of some of the violence seen at those protests, and President Dilma Rousseff has said she will not allow violent demonstrations to mar the World Cup.
Thousands of extra police and soldiers will be deployed to ensure the matches get under way smoothly.
Hosts Brazil start as favorites to win the World Cup for a sixth time, while holders Spain are aiming to win a fourth major tournament in a row after winning the European Championships two years ago.
The other seeded teams are Colombia, Uruguay, Switzerland, Argentina, Germany and Belgium.
The host nation have never lost their opening World Cup game, with the previous 20 opening games producing 14 victories and six draws for the hosts.
A capacity 65,000 crowd is expected for the match, with their journey to the stadium eased after metro workers voted not to resume a strike over pay and the dismissal of 42 colleagues.
The host city for the opening ceremony had been braced for considerable disruption after traffic chaos was caused by a five-day stoppage earlier in the week.
As one problem eased another began, however, with airport workers in Brazil’s second largest city Rio de Janeiro announcing a 24-hour strike starting at midnight on Wednesday, meaning industrial action will continue through the opening day of the World Cup.
FIFA said it had sold more than 2.9 million tickets, but they were still available for several matches on Wednesday, including some involving Germany, Italy and France.
Switzerland has declined to sign a proposed deal granting Croatians free access to the Swiss employment market.
Croatia and Switzerland had agreed the deal last summer after Croatia joined the EU.
Switzerland said the accord could not be signed “in its current form”, after a recent referendum invalidated the Swiss-EU pact on freedom of movement.
Swiss voters narrowly backed a proposal to bring back strict quotas for immigration from EU countries.
The fiercely independent nation is not a member of the EU, but has adopted large sections of EU policy.
Although the Swiss economy is booming and unemployment is low, many Swiss worry about the effects of immigration.
Switzerland declined to sign deal granting Croatians free access to employment market after a recent referendum invalidated the Swiss-EU pact on freedom of movement
Justice Minister Simonetta Sommaruga called Croatian Foreign Minister Vesna Pusic to tell her Switzerland would not be able to sign the deal extending the right of free access to Switzerland to the EU’s newest member state.
Simonetta Sommaruga also informed Brussels that the agreement needed to be re-examined, her spokesman, Philippe Schwander said.
The last week referendum had created a “new constitutional disposition”, Philippe Schwander noted.
He stressed that the justice minister was seeking a “solution” to ensure Croatians were not being discriminated against.
Following the referendum, the EU warned it would reassess its relations with Switzerland “as a whole”.
The economic impact could be great since half of Switzerland’s exports are to the EU, with Germany its biggest trading partner.
A quarter of the eight million-strong population is foreign, and last year 80,000 new immigrants arrived.
Since 2007, most of the EU’s 500 million residents have been on an equal footing with locals in the Swiss job market – the result of a policy voted into law in a 2000 referendum.
Croatian authorities have charged pharmaceutical company Farmal and 364 people – most of them reportedly doctors – for allegedly rigging the drugs market.
Senior managers at Farmal bribed a network of doctors and pharmacists to prescribe the company’s products, officials said.
They have been charged with bribery, abuse of power and corruption.
Local media said the indictment was the biggest of its kind in Croatia’s judicial history.
Correspondents say the health system could have collapsed if all the doctors implicated were sacked. There are around 5,000 doctors in Croatia.
Many of those charged were given probation fines as a result, local media reported.
Croatian authorities have charged Farmal and 364 people for allegedly rigging the drugs market
In a statement, Croatia’s anti-corruption agency Uskok said the top management of Farmal, based in the northern town of Ludbreg, was charged with bribing “medical workers”, mostly primary care doctors and pharmacists, to “order and prescribe drugs produced” by the company.
“The charges are brought up against 364 Croatian citizens and Farmal pharmaceutical company for bribery, abuse of power and corruption,” it said.
The agency did not specify how many doctors have been charged, but local media reported that some 300 doctors have been indicted, according to AFP.
The suspects face up to five years’ imprisonment if convicted, the news agency said.
Doctors and pharmacists were offered bribes, including money and travel, worth between 5-10% of the medicines they prescribed, according to Sofia News Agency.
The crimes allegedly took place between 2009 and 2012.
The date for the trial has yet to be set.
Croatia has previously struggled with a widespread corruption problem but became a member of the EU in July after introducing a series of reforms.
Starting with 1st of July 2013 Croatia has become the 28th member of the European Union, with crowds joining celebrations in the capital Zagreb.
Fireworks lit the sky as membership became effective at midnight on Sunday, with President Ivo Josipovic describing the event as historic.
It comes almost two decades after Croatia’s brutal war of independence.
But correspondents say enthusiasm for the EU in the country has been dampened by the eurozone crisis, and Croatia’s own economic problems.
Celebrations took place in the central square of Zagreb, with fireworks and music including Beethoven’s Ode to Joy, the European anthem.
“Welcome to the European Union!” European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said in Croatian to the cheering crowd.
President Ivo Josipovic said it was “a great and joyful day for our homeland”.
“This the day when we open a new chapter in the thick book of our history,” he added.
Starting with 1st of July 2013 Croatia has become the 28th member of the European Union
Earlier he told a meeting of EU and regional leaders: “The accession of Croatia to the European Union is confirmation that each one of us belongs to the European democratic and cultural set of values.”
Croatian officials then unveiled EU signs and removed customs posts at the borders with Slovenia, the first former Yugoslav republic to have joined the bloc, and with Hungary.
Croatia is the first new EU member since Romania and Bulgaria joined in 2007. It is 10 years since it applied.
Croatia’s split from Yugoslavia triggered a 1991-1995 war to secure its independence.
But with one in five unemployed and Croatia’s national debt officially classed as junk, some Croatians feel joining an economic bloc with its own serious troubles will do little to improve their prospects.
“Just look what’s happening in Greece and Spain! Is this where we’re headed?” asked pensioner Pavao Brkanovic in a market in the capital.
“You need illusions to be joyful, but the illusions have long gone,” he told Reuters news agency.
Concerns about Croatian corruption and organized crime remain among some EU leaders, and Croatia will not yet join the single currency nor the visa-free Schengen zone.
But advocates of EU membership say despite this, their case remains a persuasive one.
Two-thirds of Croatians voted in favor of accession last year.
“It’s important for us primarily for the long term guarantees of political stability and then everything else – the single market too,” said Croatia’s First Deputy Prime Minister, Vesna Pusic.
The EU itself has given Croatia a clean bill of health – and praised reforms which improve the rule of law and tackle corruption.
It hopes the other countries of the former Yugoslavia will be encouraged to join – and secure long-term peace for an historically turbulent region.
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