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Defense starts in Radovan Karadzic’s genocide trial

Accused war criminal Radovan Karadzic told tribunal judges he was a “mild and tolerant man.’’

Robin van Lonkhuijsen/AP/pool

Accused war criminal Radovan Karadzic told tribunal judges he was a “mild and tolerant man.’’

PARIS — He was once known for his virulent speeches throughout Bosnia, but on Tuesday, as Radovan Karadzic began his defense in a new phase of his genocide trial, he told international judges that he was a ‘‘mild and tolerant man’’ and instead of standing accused, he should be ‘‘rewarded for all the good things I have done.’’

It was the turn of Karadzic, a 67-year old former psychiatrist, to have his say, after prosecutors presented him as the architect of a brutal three-year war.

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‘‘Everybody who knows me knows I am not an autocrat, I am not aggressive, I am not intolerant,’’ Karadzic, the Bosnian Serb wartime leader, told the court. ‘‘On the contrary, I am a mild man, a tolerant man, with great capacity to understand others.’’ He said he wrote children’s poetry, did not hate Bosnian Muslims — he added that he had a Muslim barber — and did ‘‘everything in his power to reduce the war.’’

From the public gallery at the UN War Crimes Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia in The Hague, there were noisy cries of ‘‘He’s lying!’’ Other angry survivors of the war gathered outside.

Among the close to 70 trials held at the tribunal, Karadzic’s case involves perhaps its most famous chameleon, a once amiable psychiatrist and poet who turned into a swaggering, war-mongering ideologue in the 1990s, puzzling his former medical colleagues and acquaintances. Indicted on charges of war crimes, he went into hiding in 1996, emerging 13 years later in the guise of a new-age healer. These days, Karadzic spends long hours in the dock in a business suit, politely conducting his own defense.

The list of charges against him includes some of the worst episodes of violence in Europe since World War II. Prosecutors, who called more than 200 witnesses, say he bears responsibility for the bloody campaign to drive the Croat and Muslim population from parts of Bosnia, for the bloody three-year siege of Sarajevo, and for his role in the mass killings of captive prisoners in Srebrenica.

Acting as his own lawyer, while assisted by a court-financed team of attorneys and clerks, Karadzic said he would call 300 witnesses to prove his innocence and has demanded more time.

The court has reminded him that while prosecutors used 300 court hours to make their case and lead witnesses, Karadzic used more than 700 hours to cross-examine them.

He has long denied the charge of genocide, stemming from the massacre of close to 8,000 Bosnian Muslim captive men and boys in Srebrenica in 1995. Peter Robinson, a US defense lawyer on the Karadzic team, said that Karadzic would argue that the mass executions could not be his responsibility because there was no such policy. In court on Tuesday, Karadzic went further: ‘‘There is no indication that anyone was killed by us at Srebrenica.’’

Ratko Mladic, the Bosnian Serb commander who was in charge of the Srebrenica operation, is on trial in separate proceedings at the same tribunal. Mladic, who was under Karadzic’s command, has often said he was following the politicians’ orders. The two men, who were often at odds during the latter part of the 1992-1995 Bosnian war, face similar charges and as their trials unfold, they increasingly seem to blame each other.

By most accounts, 100,000 people died in the Bosnian war, and millions were displaced.

In another courtroom Tuesday, the tribunal’s last trial began, signaling it is finally winding up its cases from the wars that broke up Yugoslavia. Goran Hadzic, the suspect, is a former leader of a Serbian rebellion in Croatia. He stands accused of killing hundreds of Croats and expelling thousands from their homes as Serbian troops seized their lands.

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