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Serb nationalist war crimes defendant skips pre-trial hearing due to hunger strike

[JURIST] Hunger-striking Serbian war crimes suspect Vojislav Seselj [BBC profile; ICTY case backgrounder] refused to attend a preliminary hearing Wednesday at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia [official website], saying his voice was too weak to be able to participate. Seselj went on hunger strike [JURIST report] early last week demanding [statement, DOC] that the ICTY dismiss his court-appointed lawyers, allow him to pick his own defense counsel, deliver all court documents to him in paper form, and permit unrestricted visits with his wife. Seselj's trial is scheduled to begin next week.

Seselj was indicted by the ICTY in 2003 and charged [indictment, PDF] in connection with his role in establishing rogue paramilitary units affiliated with the ultra-nationalist Serbian Radical Party [party website, in Serbian]. Those units are believed to have massacred and otherwise persecuted Croats and other non-Serbs in the Balkan Wars of the 1990s. Seselj has pleaded not guilty to the charges, five of which were dropped [JURIST report] by the ICTY earlier this month. An ICTY appeals panel last month ruled that Seselj could represent himself [JURIST report] during his trial, but also appointed two lawyers - David Cooper and Andreas O'Shea - to assist Seselj with his defense if necessary. During a pre-trial hearing earlier this month, Seselj was removed from the courtroom [JURIST report] for disrupting proceedings whenever the court-appointed lawyers attempted to speak. AP has more.

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