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Karadzic denies claims he masterminded killings

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[October 16, 2012]  THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) -- Former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic cast himself as a "mild man, a tolerant man" who tried to prevent war and then worked to reduce casualties on all sides in the bloody 1992-95 Bosnian conflict, as he opened his defense in his long-running genocide trial Tuesday.

His claims brought snorts of derision and cries of, "He's lying! He's lying!" from Muslim survivors of the war watching from the public gallery.

Karadzic, who faces charges including genocide and crimes against humanity, was given 90 minutes to make a statement on his role in the war that left an estimated 100,000 dead. The statement was not made under oath, meaning Karadzic could not be cross-examined by prosecutors.

In another of the tribunal's courtrooms, Goran Hadzic, a former leader of rebel Serbs in Croatia, became the last of the tribunal's 161 indicted suspects to face justice as his trial got under way.

He was arrested last year in northern Serbia after more than seven years on the run and pleaded not guilty to charges of murdering hundreds of Croats and expelling tens of thousands more.

Karadzic, a former psychologist and poet, told judges he was a "physician and literary man" who was a reluctant player in the violent breakup of Yugoslavia. He said that before the war many of his friends, including his hairdresser, were Muslims.

"Instead of being accused of the events in our war, I should be rewarded for all the good things I have done," he said through a court interpreter. "I did everything humanly possible to avoid the war ... I succeeded in reducing the suffering of all civilians."

Prosecutors have painted a starkly different picture of Karadzic during months of witness testimony, portraying him as a political leader who masterminded Serb atrocities throughout the war, from campaigns of persecution and murder of Muslims and Croats early in 1992 to the conflict's bloody climax, the 1995 massacre of some 8,000 Muslim men and boys in the U.N.-protected Srebrenica enclave.

Karadzic, 67, who looked relaxed and cheerful in court as he read his statement from a prepared text, denied that portrait of him.

"Everybody who knows me knows I am not an autocrat, I am not aggressive, I am not intolerant," he told judges. "On the contrary, I am a mild man, a tolerant man with great capacity to understand others."

He also said that some of the worst atrocities of the war, including two deadly shelling attacks on a Sarajevo market place in 1994 and 1995, were "orchestrated" to turn public opinion against Serbs.

Karadzic said Sarajevo was his adopted home and that "every shell that fell on Sarajevo hurt me personally."

He called the first market place shelling a "shameless orchestration."

"Obviously some people got killed by that explosion but we also saw mannequins being thrown onto trucks creating this show for the world."

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The first defense witness Karadzic called, retired Russian Col. Andrey Demurenko, who helped investigate the second attack, also cast doubt on who fired the deadly mortars into crowds of shoppers.

Demurenko's investigation "indicated that the Serbs could not have fired the shell," Karadzic said.

Serb positions "either were not suitable for mortar use or that there were no traces of mortar use," he added, reading a summary of an earlier statement by Demurenko.

However, previous trials at the tribunal -- including one at which Demurenko testified for the defense -- have concluded that Serb forces fired the mortars and convicted Serb officers of responsibility.

Karadzic boycotted the start of his trial in October 2009 saying he had not been given enough time to prepare. The first witness did not testify until April 2010 and prosecutors rested their case on May 25 this year.

Just over a month later, judges acquitted Karadzic of one count of genocide, saying prosecutors had not presented enough evidence to establish that a campaign of murder and persecution early in the Bosnian War amounted to genocide. Prosecutors have appealed the acquittal.

Karadzic still faces 10 more charges, including one genocide count relating to the Srebrenica massacre.

His wartime military chief, Gen. Ratko Mladic, is also on trial in The Hague, facing the same charges. Both men face a maximum sentence of life imprisonment if convicted.

But Karadzic insisted Muslims and Croats were to blame for the conflict in Bosnia.

"It is a terrible misconception and great injustice, this portrayal of the Serbs as the ones who started the war," he said.

[Associated Press; By MIKE CORDER]

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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