Jailed Serbian war criminal to lead party

A Serbian far-right party was expected to re-elect a jailed UN war crimes suspect as its leader today, amid protests by Liberals who denounce the party as fascist.

A Serbian far-right party was expected to re-elect a jailed UN war crimes suspect as its leader today, amid protests by Liberals who denounce the party as fascist.

The increasingly popular Serbian Radical Party convened for a congress that will re-elect Vojislav Seselj as the head of the party, despite his imprisonment at the UN war crimes tribunal in The Hague, Netherlands.

Seselj was indicted by the court in 2003 for his role in the wars in Croatia and Bosnia, when the Radicals organised volunteers from Serbia to fight against local Muslims and Croats.

The Radicals, who lost power in 2000 together with ex-president Slobodan Milosevic, recently have been regaining popularity among Serbs dissatisfied with the pace of post-Milosevic reform.

Recent opinion polls have suggested that the Radicals, who are the strongest group in the Serbian parliament, could win most votes in an early election pencilled in for December.

Tomislav Nikolic, the deputy leader who is also expected to be re-elected later today, predicted at the congress that the Radical Party will win the next general election.

“They will have a lot of trouble trying to beat the Radicals, but they will also be in trouble when we win,” he said.

Outside the congress hall in Belgrade, several dozen Liberal Democratic Party activists chanted “Fascists” and “Gravediggers” during a protest rally against the Radical Party.

Political tensions mounted in Serbia after the authorities drafted a new constitution and called a national referendum on the text for October 28-29.

The constitution declares UN-run Kosovo an integral part of Serbia, although the separatist province’s future status is being negotiated at internationally sponsored talks.

The Liberal Democratic Party and several pro-Western groups have urged a referendum boycott saying the constitution is against Serbia’s interests.

The Radicals expressed support for the constitution at their congress, urging the people to turn out for the referendum in large numbers. The Radicals in the past have said that Serbia should go to war if Kosovo is granted the independence that is demanded by the province’s ethnic Albanian majority.

The early elections are likely to be scheduled soon after the referendum.

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