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War crimes verdict against late Croatian general branded 'an insult to justice'

Hundreds of people, including two government ministers, attended a commemoration ceremony to honour a Croatian general who died after apparently taking poison at a United Nations tribunal that confirmed his war crimes conviction.

Bused in from other Croatian towns and from Bosnia, admirers of Slobodan Praljak filled the main concert hall in Zagreb, the capital.

The gathering, organised by a Croatian generals' association, displayed the resurging nationalism in the European Union's newest member state.

Miroslav Tudjman, the son of Croatia's late president Franjo Tudjman, denounced the tribunal in The Hague, Netherlands.

Mr Tudjman described Praljak as a "big man no one can match".

"Slobodan Praljak wouldn't live as a war criminal for a minute because he wasn't one," Mr Tudjman told a clapping crowd.

"His conviction is an insult for justice."

Praljak gulped what he said was poison after judges at the Yugoslav war crimes court confirmed his 20-year sentence in an appeals hearing last month.

Despite medical attention, he died soon after.

Many in Croatia consider Praljak a hero despite his conviction for war crimes, including murder, persecution and inhumane treatment, against Muslims in Bosnia during the 1992-95 war.

For days, Praljak's photo was on display at Zagreb's main square where people lit candles.

Dutch authorities and the court have opened investigations into how Praljak, who had been in custody, obtained the substance.

Croatian officials have criticised the ruling against Praljak and five other former Bosnian Croat officials because it linked Croatia's wartime leadership with Bosnian Croat efforts to carve out a mini-state in Bosnia.

Mr Tudjman, whose late father was named in the verdict as having been involved in the plot, described the ruling as "unjust" and "staged" as a result of anti-Croat bias by the Hague court.

Croatia has faced criticism internationally and from liberals at home for its heated reaction to The Hague ruling and Praljak's death, amid the surge in right-wing sentiments, including death threats against some liberal politicians.

Praljak was reportedly cremated last week in a private ceremony.

AP

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