By MIKE CORDER, Associated Press
THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) — U.N. prosecutors demanded a 28-year prison sentence Wednesday for a Serbian ultranationalist accused of recruiting brutal paramilitary groups and using hate-laced speeches to incite them to commit atrocities in the Balkan wars of the early 1990s.
Prosecutor Mathias Marcussen made the sentencing demand after summing up the prosecution case against Vojislav Seselj, who already has been jailed at the Yugoslav war crimes tribunal for nine years.
Seselj, whose Serbian Radical Party still holds 57 of the Serbian parliament's 250 seats, insists he is innocent and calls the case against him a plot to remove him from the political scene.
He did not call any witnesses or mount any defense but has three days next week to present closing arguments.
Marcussen told judges Seselj was responsible "for the suffering of tens of thousands of victims who were expelled from their homes, murdered, detained, tortured, raped and whose villages, towns and religious sites were wantonly destroyed as a result of his words and his acts."
Seselj smiled and laughed at times as Marcussen spoke.
Prosecutors allege that Seselj was part of a criminal plot led by late Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic to carve a new Serb superstate out of parts of the former Yugoslavia with a campaign of ethnic cleansing.
Seselj's firebrand speeches at rallies "planted the seeds of ethnic hatred and helped them grow into ethnic violence against non-Serbs" in Bosnia, Croatia and even parts of Serbia, Marcussen said.
His crimes "deserve a punishment that reflects their gravity," he added.
Regardless of whether he is convicted and imprisoned when judges deliver their verdicts, likely later this year, Seselj already has spent more time in tribunal detention than any other suspect indicted by the court.
Seselj, 57, surrendered to the court days after he was indicted in 2003, declaring his innocence and vowing to turn his trial into a circus.
He went on a hunger strike in 2006 that left him close to death and delayed the start of his trail. He repeatedly named witnesses whose identities were shielded by court orders, leading to two contempt of court convictions, and he often insulted prosecutors and judges, whom he has likened to the Spanish inquisition.
"He has made every effort to obstruct the proper functioning of the tribunal," Marcussen said.