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Accused war criminal Seselj in fiery return home to Belgrade

Serb ultranationalist leader Vojislav Seselj waves to supporters gathered outside the Radical Serb Party (SRS) headquarters in Zemun, near Belgrade, on November 12, 2014
Serb ultranationalist leader Vojislav Seselj waves to supporters gathered outside the Radical Serb Party (SRS) headquarters in Zemun, near Belgrade, on November 12, 2014

Serb ultranationalist leader Vojislav Seselj made a fiery return home on Wednesday following his release by a UN war crimes tribunal for cancer treatment, branding his country's leaders "traitors".

Welcomed at the airport by family, officials from his party and more than 1,000 supporters, the defiant hardliner -- who is charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity -- vowed to chase from power his former allies.

Several hundred people gathered at his Serbian Radical Party (SRS) headquarters to hear him speak.

Speaking of his release by the judges at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in The Hague, he said: "They say it is temporary.

"But it will be temporary only until we overthrow from power (President) Tomislav Nikolic and (Prime Minister) Aleksandar Vucic, our renegades and Serbian traitors," Seselj told the crowd from the window of the party offices.

He said the two leaders "sold our honour and gave up Serb nationalism to become servants of the West".

Vucic and Nikolic were once Seselj's closest collaborators, but they both left his SRS in 2008 and founded their own pro-European SNS party.

Seselj also labelled the UN tribunal a "wounded globalist beast that is still destroying lives of prominent Serbian leaders and generals."

The stocky former ally of Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic appeared slightly thinner and red-faced Seselj.

The Hague-based court last week ordered Seselj's release from custody in the Netherlands so he could return home for cancer treatment.

Seselj, accused of leading ethnic Serb volunteers in persecuting Croats, Muslims and other non-Serbs during the brutal 1990s wars in Croatia and Bosnia, underwent colon cancer surgery in December.

Last month Seselj's party lashed out at his treatment by the ICTY, saying the cancer had spread to his liver, and called for his immediate release.

He voluntarily surrendered to the ICTY in 2003 and went on trial four years later. The trial wrapped up in March 2012 but the court has yet to issue a verdict.

At his trial, Seselj pleaded not guilty to nine counts including murder, torture, cruel treatment and wanton destruction of villages.

Prosecutors said Seselj, a prominent radical politician, recruited and indoctrinated volunteers and paramilitaries, known as "Seselj's men", who committed atrocities during the conflicts.

- Victims outraged -

His release sparked outrage in Croatia and Bosnia.

"It is sad and unjust... I'm afraid that eventually no one will be held accountable for all the crimes that were committed in Croatia" during the 1991-1995 war, Denijel Rehak, from the eastern town of Vukovar and who heads an association of prisoners of war, told AFP.

Croatian President Ivo Josipovic said it was "sad that the case did not conclude with a conviction as we were all expecting".

In Bosnia, representatives of several associations of the victims of the 1992-1995 war said Seselj's release as a "shameful act" which "rewards the indictees while the victims are tricked."

"We lost any hope... our wounds are reopened," Ahmet Grahic, head of an association of families of missing people from the region of the eastern town of Zvornik, told AFP.

Seselj frequently taunted the war crimes judges and forced the cancellation of his first trial by going on a hunger strike in his cell in 2006 to insist on his right to defend himself.

Serbia had said it was prepared to receive Seselj provided he accepted the conditions of his release, which he had previously refused to do.

Seselj is barred from contact with witnesses or victims and must return to the tribunal when requested.

ICTY spokeswoman Magdalena Spalinska said the tribunal had "not found it necessary" to consult the accused as to whether he would accept the conditions as the judges deemed there was no reason to believe he would not respect them.

However, judge Mandiaye Niang disagreed with the release, saying judges should have consulted with Seselj about the terms of his release.

Seselj said he was to hold a press conference on Thursday and address a party rally in Belgrade on Saturday.

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