BELGRADE, Serbia – Serb authorities have stepped up security ahead of a nationalist rally opposing the extradition of former Bosnian Serb Gen. Ratko Mladic to face war crimes charges before an international court.
Extreme right-wing groups urged their supporters, mostly soccer hooligans, to join Sunday's planned rally in front of parliament in downtown Belgrade. Organized by the ultranationalist Serbian Radical Party, the rally is seen as a test about whether Mladic still enjoys popular support after 16 years as a fugitive.
"Additional attention has been focused on the extremist groups these days," said Ivica Dacic, Serbia's police chief. "We are taking measures to prevent the escalation of extremist behavior."
Mladic's lawyer said the former Bosnian Serb military commander knows he will be extradited to a U.N. war crimes tribunal but wants time to rest before the trip.
Attorney Milos Saljic told reporters that Mladic does not know exactly when he will be extradited to the tribunal in The Hague, Netherlands, "but he would like to recover a little bit first."
Mladic, 69, is being held in a Serbian jail. He could be extradited as early as Monday, if a judge rejects his appeal of a decision to move him to The Hague. His defense team and family have said he suffers from several health problems.
Dacic said the rally scheduled Sunday in Belgrade will closely be watched by the police, but he stressed that "the situation in Serbia is stable."
Saljic said Mladic made "a public appeal" against violence by his supporters.
"He is calling for there to be no bloodshed," Saljic told reporters after meeting Mladic in his prison cell. "He does not want to be the cause of unrest."
Mladic is charged by the U.N. war crimes court for his part in the killing of some 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys in Srebrenica, and other atrocities committed by his troops during Bosnia's 1992-95 war.
Saljic also told reporters Mladic's mental state was poor.
"He's in a kind of confusion," Saljic said. "His health has not improved."
Saljic said Mladic asked to see some of his "old friends." A judge would have to approve such visits, the lawyer said.
Mladic's son Darko told reporters in front of the Belgrade court that the former fugitive looked a bit better than he did Friday but seemed unaware of the situation he faces.
"If you were able to talk to him for five minutes, you would know what I'm talking about," Darko Mladic said, reiterating a family appeal that Mladic be placed in a hospital.
He also repeated Mladic's call against violence by his supporters, saying the protests should be peaceful.
Dusan Stojanovic contributed.