April 6, 2016 / 12:52 PM / 2 years ago

Hague prosecutor to appeal acquittal of Serbia's Seselj

BELGRADE (Reuters) - Prosecutors at the Yugoslavia crimes tribunal in The Hague said on Wednesday they would appeal last week’s acquittal of nationalist politician Vojislav Seselj, whose Serbian Radical party is likely to return to parliament later this month.

Serbian nationalist leader Vojislav Seselj speaks during a news conference in his Radical party headquarters in Belgrade, Serbia, March 31, 2016. REUTERS/Stringer

Serge Brammertz, chief prosecutor, said judges had ignored a large body of evidence when they freed Seselj, who was accused of stoking murderous ethnic hatred with fiery rhetoric against Bosnian Muslims and Croats in the early 1990s.

Brammertz said judges’ misinterpretation of the evidence had led them to entertain the possibility that “expelling civilians was a humanitarian gesture” and “incendiary hate speech was simply morale boosting for the Serb forces”.

Seselj said he was unworried at the appeal. “They have no legal grounds,” he told Reuters by telephone as he headed to an election rally in the eastern town of Bor. “This will in no way affect my election campaign. I am the best jurist in the world.”

Pollsters say his party is likely to exceed the five percent vote threshold needed to return to parliament after four years, meaning that Seselj himself is likely to be elected. They say support for his Radical Party has firmed since his acquittal.

News of the decision to appeal by prosecutors at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia may only boost Seselj’s popularity among his hardline supporters, who cheered his acquittal on March 31.

Legal experts say the appeal would not prevent Seselj taking up a seat in parliament. But being a member of the parliament would also not give him legal immunity.

Reporting by Thomas Escritt in Amsterdam; Editing by Jeremy Gaunt

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