Belgrade opens show trial of Nato leaders

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The Independent Online

A show trial against Nato leaders opens in Belgrade today, with Tony Blair and Bill Clinton, the United States President, heading the list of 14 people accused of war crimes in the 11 weeks of Nato's campaign against Serbia last year.

A show trial against Nato leaders opens in Belgrade today, with Tony Blair and Bill Clinton, the United States President, heading the list of 14 people accused of war crimes in the 11 weeks of Nato's campaign against Serbia last year.

The 14 are charged with "war crimes against civilians, aggressive warfare, use of internationally banned weapons, an attempt against the life of the President of Yugoslavia and violation of territorial sovereignty of Yugoslavia".

The Yugoslav government claims that the accused were presented with the 250-page indictment "through normal diplomatic channels" although Yugoslavia cut full diplomatic ties with Britain, the United States, France and Germany when Nato started the air campaign in March 1999.

Observers view this trial as an attempt by President Slobodan Milosevic to win votes ahead of Sunday's presidential elections, the first he could lose in 10 years. The court has appointed lawyers to represent the absent accused.

Mr Milosevic and his aides want to turn the elections into a referendum "for or against Nato", in the hope of winning over people who were deeply shocked by the bombing. For the regime, Serbs are divided into "patriots", who refuse to bow to the "dictates of the West", or "traitors", opposition leaders "always ready to compromise" with Nato countries.

No other trials will be held this week in the district court, which was hastily redecorated recently for the occasion. The trial is expected to end on Friday, two days before the elections.

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