Croatians protest war crimes persecutions of war veterans
Zagreb: More than a thousand people gathered here on Saturday to protest proceedings against veterans from the 1991-1995 war suspected of war crimes and accused the authorities of failing to protect them.
"We feel abandoned and betrayed by the authorities," Boris Prebeg, from the organisers, told the crowd that gathered at Zagreb's main square. Police estimated some 1,500 people took part in the protest.
The protest, organised by several war veterans groups, was sparked by a recent arrest of a Croat war veteran, who fought in the eastern town of Vukovar and was held in Serb detention camps.
Tihomir Purda was detained earlier this month at a border crossing between Croatia and Bosnia on a Serbian arrest warrant.
Belgrade suspects him of being involved in war crimes against Serbs in Vukovar at the start of the 1991-1995 war. The conflict pitted Croats striving for independence from the former Yugoslavia against rebel Serbs who opposed the move.
Serbia forwarded his file to Croatia's prosecutors for review while he is being held in a Bosnian prison waiting for an extradition procedure to be launched.
The arrest of a Croat for alleged war crimes in Vukovar has sparked outrage here as the town is seen as a symbol of the horrors the Croatian people endured during the war.
"Winners in War Defeated in Peace" and "Stop Persecution of Croatian War Veterans", read some of the banners carried by protestors in Zagreb on Saturday many of whom waved Croatian flags.
At the start of the one-hour protest the national anthem was played while protestors later chanted "Vukovar" and "Betrayal".
The photo of general Ante Gotovina, currently tried by the UN war crimes tribunal in The Hague, was also put on display.
Many in Croatia see war veterans, notably top military officers, as heroes and symbols of the country's fight for independence.
The organisers announced they would continue with similar gatherings until the "persecution of war veterans stops".