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Serbian Ultra-nationalist Refuses to Attend War Crimes Trial

Ultra-nationalist Serbian Vojislav Seselj has refused to attend the start of his war crimes trial at the U.N. tribunal in The Hague. The politician has been on a hunger strike for more than two weeks and his health is deteriorating. Seselj is charged with persecution, execution and murder for his efforts to create an ethnically pure Serbian state. For VOA, Lauren Comiteau has more from Amsterdam.

The defendant's seat was empty, but his trial continued without him. A court official informed judges that Vojislav Seselj didn't want to attend the day's hearings, was still refusing to eat and take medication, and has grown weaker over the weekend, drinking only water. Noting that Seselj's weak condition is self-induced, presiding judge Alphons Orie said the trial must go on. He then appointed a lawyer to permanently take over the case, despite Seselj's' fight to represent himself.

"The Chamber finds that the accused's self-representation in the course of the period since the 20th of October 2006 has substantially obstructed the proper and expeditious conduct of the proceedings," Judge Alphons Orie said.

Vojislav Seselj surrendered to the Tribunal almost four years ago, vowing to smash the court to pieces. But he has repeatedly slowed down his own case, demanding to represent himself. He's sought to appoint advisors, including his son, that don't meet the Tribunal's legal standards, asked for millions of euros to pay them, refused to read electronic documents, and insisted judges wear normal civilian clothing instead of what he called their inquisition like robes.

As a candidate for the Serbian Radical Party in upcoming elections, his courtroom behavior in The Hague, say critics, may be helpful. But in The Hague, prosecutors say it's just such antics that make Seselj a war criminal. Prosecutor Hildegard Uertz-Retzlaff called Seselj the charismatic face of an ultranationalist policy, one which promoted a homogenous Serb state through the politics of violence.

"Vojislav Seselj was and is a politician," he said. "A well-educated, a professor, a shrewd and calculating man, an extreme Serb nationalist, a master of political manipulation marked with patriotic rhetoric."

Vojislav Seselj is charged with recruiting and financing Serb paramilitary groups, notorious for committing numerous crimes, including the murder of some 255 non-Serbs taken from a hospital in Vukovar, Croatia in the early years of the war. He's also being charged with inciting his supporters to violence with his rhetoric.

Prosecutors are using his own statements against him, including his testimony in the trial of his onetime ally, former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, who died in custody earlier this year. Seselj will have the opportunity to address the court Tuesday, but whether he takes it remains to be seen.