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Ratko Mladic says he had nothing to do with the Srebrenica massacre

Ratko Mladic has denied responsibility for the massacre of thousands of Bosnian Muslim boys and men at Srebrenica in 1995 as he tries to avoid extradition to The Hague to face trial for war crimes.

After visiting Mladic in jail in Belgrade on Sunday, the former Bosnian Serb army commander's son Darko said that his father "had nothing to do" with the killings. The massacre of more than 7,000 people was the largest act of genocide on European soil since the Second World War.

"He said that whatever was done in Srebrenica, he had nothing to do with it," Darko Mladic told reporters. "He saved so many women, children and fighters... His order was first to evacuate the wounded, women and children and then fighters. Whoever did what behind his back, he had nothing to do with it."

Mladic is today expected to appeal against his impending transfer to the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), where he faces 15 indictments related to Srebrenica and the 1,400-day Siege of Sarajevo, during which 10,000 civilians lost their lives. From 1992 to 1996, Mladic was commander of the main staff of the Bosnian Serb forces which besieged Sarajevo and are held responsible for a number of war crimes.

Mladic's lawyer, Milos Saljic, is expected to lodge the appeal on grounds of ill health, following a Serbian court ruling that he was fit enough to be extradited. Mr Saljic claimed yesterday that 69-year-old Mladic's health and psychological condition had deteriorated considerably since his arrest in a dawn raid on Thursday, and that it was not possible to have a coherent conversation with him.

The general's wife, Bosilijka Mladic, told Serbian newspaper Vecernje Novosti that her husband had suffered three strokes, the most serious in 2008, which left him with no feeling on the right side of his body.

The response to Mladic's arrest in Serbia has been calm, but Serbian nationalists were gathering last night for a large demonstration outside Parliament. Past protests by the notoriously volatile hard right have turned violent, most recently after the arrest of former Bosnian Serb political leader Radovan Karadzic in 2008.

By mid-afternoon, a strong police presence was being deployed across central Belgrade, including riot police units outside Parliament. Other police were stopping and searching young men on Belgrade's main shopping boulevard.

Nationalists led by the main opposition Serbian Radical Party erected a large stage outside the Parliament building topped with a banner reading "Tadic is not Serbia", a reference to western-leaning President Boris Tadic, who has reaped considerable international political capital from the arrest of Mladic, but is deeply unpopular on the Serbian right. Loudspeakers were set up to broadcast patriotic music and speeches.

Three hours before the demonstration was due to begin, a small group of 20 young men had gathered by the stage, while older men sat on benches in the park opposite reading the latest on the Mladic case.

"Every war brings evil, but in this case it is just the Serbs suffering," said a 68-year-old ex-Yugoslav army officer who asked not to be named.

Slobodan Stoikovic, a 59-year-old former driver wearing a heavy neck chain with the Serbian coat of arms and carrying a Serbian flag umbrella, accepted Mladic's claim not to be responsible for the Srebrenica massacre. "Ratko Mladic was a good man, a soldier doing his best," he said. "He was there, but he didn't know what was happening. The EU brought Serbia to war."

Miroslav Markovic, selling Serbian flags on Kneza Mihaila, described Mladic as "a patriot for his people".

"It's possible his troops committed war crimes, and the guilty should pay, but Mladic won't get a fair trial in The Hague," Mr Markovic argued, adding that "the demonstration is a legitimate act of protest against the campaign against Serbia and Ratko Mladic."