Radovan Karadzic, the Bosnian Serb genocide suspect, went into a jail cell in the Netherlands this morning awaiting trial on 11 charges of war crimes, after being whisked from Belgrade to The Hague in the middle of the night, according to Guardian.
Several thousand hardline nationalists had a few hours earlier rallied in the Serbian capital to protest at the arrest and try to block Karadzic`s transfer to the international war crimes tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. But around 4am the former Bosnian Serb leader was put in a convoy of darkened jeeps, taken to Belgrade`s district court and then to the airport for the flight to Rotterdam, from where he was transferred to a cell at the tribunal`s remand centre in Scheveningen on the North Sea – the whole process taking about four hours.
Karadzic was arrested on a Belgrade bus last week after 12 years as a fugitive.
The Hague tribunal has effectively closed down for the summer holiday, but a duty judge will be available for the obligatory plea hearing, which must take place within 30 days. The chief prosecutor, Serge Brammertz of Belgium, is to hold a press conference later today.
The new pro-western government of Boris Tadic, the Serbian president, waited until last night`s protests in Belgrade had subsided before transferring Karadzic, the political leader of the Bosnian Serbs during the 1992-95 war. He faces 11 counts of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity, specifically for the 42-month siege of Sarajevo in which 10,000 people were killed, and for the massacre of almost 8,000 Muslim males at Srebrenica in eastern Bosnia in July 1995.
Karadzic was arrested on a city bus in his heavily disguised new persona as a new-age guru of alternative medicine. He and his lawyers tried to delay extradition to The Hague by prolonging or confounding appeal procedures. It was not clear whether he had actually lodged an appeal, but the deadline had expired.
Last night`s pro-Karadzic rally in Belgrade failed to live up to its billing, suggesting that the hardline nationalism that has predominated in Serbia for the past 20 years is a fading force, and that the pro-western democrats of the Tadic government have the upper hand.
While up to 100,000 people had been predicted to take over the streets of central Belgrade, the organisers could muster less than 15,000, a handful of whom scuffled with riot police. Protesters held portraits of Karadzic and banners demanding "freedom for Serbia".
The lukewarm response to the calls for protest from the main opposition Radical party of extreme nationalists, whose leader, Vojislav Seselj, is also on trial at the Hague for war crimes, will encourage Tadic in his pro-western policy shift. A Radical leader, Aleksandar Vucic, had called on the protesters to demonstrate against Tadic`s "treason and dictatorship".
Tadic said the protesters, being bussed into Belgrade from all over Serbia and neighbouring Bosnia, had a right to demonstrate peacefully. But he added: "There`s no patriotism in hooliganism."
Rasim Ljajic, a Muslim official in the Serbian government responsible for cooperating with The Hague tribunal and a hate figure for nationalists, said his phones had not stopped ringing with threats for three days. "It is clear that it is all organised," he told a Sarajevo newspaper.
Tadic has been receiving death threats, according to the Belgrade media. European diplomats say that before last week`s arrest, the boldest move by a Serbian government in years, Tadic had made it clear he feared for his own safety if he broke with nationalist coalition partners and pursued pro-western policies.
Despite last week`s breakthrough and quick moves to put allies in key posts in the country`s powerful security services, Tadic`s grip is fragile in a country with a penchant for political violence. But the pro-western democrats now running Serbia may take comfort from the lacklustre opposition demonstrations last night.
Tadic`s pro-western predecessor, Zoran Djindjic, was assassinated in 2003 after he arrested and extradited the former president Slobodan Milosevic and sought to join the European mainstream. Radical party leaders have been openly declaring that Tadic could face the same fate as Djindjic.
"We warn Tadic that treason has never gone unpunished in Serbia. This is not a threat, but a warning of the fate that followed traitors throughout Serbian history," said Vjerica Radeka, a Radical party MP.
Ljajic described the mood in Belgrade as the most menacing since 2003. "The worst thing is a very bad political climate is being created, the worst since the Djindjic murder. There is a dramatic rise in political tension."
The Karadzic arrest is proof of Tadic`s determination to end years of isolation and put Serbia on a fast track to European integration. But while EU leaders were exultant at the arrest, they remain split over how quickly to reward the Serbs. A final meeting of EU member states before the summer break yesterday failed to agree on whether and when to award Serbia trade benefits.