ZAGREB • Croats expressed shock and paid tribute to war criminal Slobodan Praljak, who died after appearing to drink poison in court at The Hague as UN judges upheld his 20-year sentence.
Croat leaders in the Balkans seized upon Praljak's apparent suicide as evidence of the failings of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, which was handing down its final judgment before shutting down.
"His act, which we all unfortunately witnessed today, speaks mostly about the deep moral injustice towards six Croats from Bosnia and the Croatian people," Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic told a news conference on Wednesday.
Praljak's act demonstrated "what sacrifice he was ready to make in front of the whole world in order to show that Slobodan Praljak is not a war criminal", said Mr Dragan Covic, a Croat member of Bosnia's tripartite presidency. "It is a humiliation of this institution (the court) which has existed since 1993."
Praljak's name remains closely tied to the destruction of the iconic Ottoman-era bridge in Bosnia's southern city of Mostar in November 1993, during fierce clashes between Croats and Muslims. Although the bridge was rebuilt after the war, the city remains sharply segregated along ethnic lines, which was clearer than ever on Wednesday evening.
The Muslim-dominated eastern side of the city was deserted, while on the western side, mostly home to Croats, mourners lit candles for Praljak in the square.
Croatian political analyst Zarko Puhovski said Praljak's death would overshadow the verdict and make him a new "Croatian saint". And although the court was meant to promote reconciliation in the Balkans after the region's bloody wars, he said Wednesday's judgment may have the opposite effect.