The Hague: Guards at the UN war crimes tribunal removed Ratko Mladic from the courtroom on Monday after the former Bosnian Serb army chief harangued the judge as he read out the charges and entered a not guilty plea on Mladic`s behalf.
Having threatened to boycott his second hearing since being tracked down and extradited from Serbia to The Hague in May, Mladic did in fact appear but spent several minutes demanding new legal representation and seeking a delay in filing his plea. He also complained of cold after being told not to wear his cap.
Judge Alphons Ourie rejected the request for a postponement but said the tribunal would check whether the lawyers he wanted, a Serbian and a Russian, would at subsequent hearings be allowed to replace the court-appointed attorney acting for Mladic.
When Ourie moved on to rule that, in the absence of a plea, the court would enter one for Mladic after reading out the charges, the 69-year-old former career soldier shouted: "No, no, no! Don`t read it to me, not a single word."
As Ourie pressed on, warning Mladic that he would be removed if he interrupted again, he stated the first charge as genocide.
"No, no, I`m not going to listen to this without my lawyer," Mladic shouted as he removed his translation. "You are no court.
"Who are you? You`re not allowing me to breathe."
The judge adjourned the hearing, screening it off from public view, before resuming some minutes later with an empty dock to read the remaining charges, formally entering a not guilty plea after each one. There are 11 charges in all.
Mladic is accused over the 43-month siege of the Bosnian capital Sarajevo and the massacre of 8,000 Muslim men and boys in Srebrenica -- Europe`s worst massacre since World War Two.
He was represented by court-appointed lawyer Aleksandar Aleksic, who asked for the plea hearing to be delayed and for himself to leave if Mladic did not want him there. Mladic has requested for Belgrade-based military lawyer Milos Saljic and Russian jurist Alexander Mezyaev to represent him. The court is still verifying their qualifications and eligibility.
Arrested on May 26 after 16 years on the run, Mladic had rejected the charges against him as "obnoxious" and "monstrous" when he was formally charged at the war crimes court on June 3.
At the start of the hearing, judge Orie repeatedly asked Mladic to stop interacting with the public gallery, where families of Srebrenica victims were seated to Mladic`s right.
"I hear better on my left ear," Mladic replied, suggesting he was only turning his head to the judge to hear him better.
Sitting without the cap he had worn at this first hearing, Mladic, who has said he was "gravely ill," barked at the judge and complained he was "an old man."
"I have to wear a cap because I am too old, and I am cold. One side of my body is not functioning," he said, possibly referring to the after-effects of a stroke. "I want to communicate with you in a humane way. You are trying to impose impossible conditions on me -- a lawyer I don`t want."
Mladic is accused over a campaign to seize territory for Serbs after Bosnia, following Croatia, broke away from the Yugoslav federation in the 1990s as the Balkan state broke up during five years of war that killed at least 130,000 people.
Hague prosecutor Serge Brammertz has said Mladic used his power to commit atrocities and must answer for it, but Serb nationalists say Mladic defended the nation and did no worse than Croat or Bosnian Muslim army commanders.
Several hundred survivors of the Bosnian war had gathered in Sarajevo on Monday to urge the court to not allow Mladic to mock it and to pursue a fair and swift trial.
"The survivors` accounts tell enough about the scope of his crimes and the court should not allow him to turn the courtroom into a theater," said Satko Mujagic, a war prisoner at Bosnia`s Omarska detention camp where up to 900 Muslims were killed by the Bosnian Serb forces.
Court spokeswoman Nerma Jelacic said that now that a plea had been entered into record for Mladic, pre-trial status hearings would be held roughly every three months.
A trial is unlikely to begin until next year at the earliest. Mladic`s civilian chief, Radovan Karadzic, arrested in 2008, has been on trial at The Hague since October 2009.
Mladic is widely regarded as the last of the major figures in the Balkan blood-letting of the 1990s to be brought to face justice. The Russian lawyer Mezyaev whom he has asked to represent him also advised former Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic, who died in prison at The Hague in 2006, five years after being extradited, with his trial still unfinished.