A United Nations war crimes tribunal was dramatically halted when a former Bosnian-Croat military leader appeared to drink poison seconds after judges upheld his 20-year sentence.
Slobodan Praljak, 72, yelled, “I am not a war criminal!” and appeared to drink from a small bottle, seconds after losing his appeal at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, in The Hague, Netherlands.
Praljak is one of six Croatian politicians sentenced to jail for their involvement in a campaign to drive Muslims out of a would-be Bosnian Croat mini-state in Bosnia in the early 1990s.
Wednesday’s hearing was quickly suspended as Praljak’s lawyer shouted out: “My client says he has taken poison.”
As court officials surrounded Bosnian-born Praljak, presiding judge Carmel Agius immediately ordered the proceedings suspended and the curtains surrounding the courtroom were closed.
Within minutes, an ambulance was seen arriving outside the tribunal in The Hague, while a helicopter hovered overhead.
Several emergency rescue workers also rushed into the building carrying equipment in backpacks, while court officials called for calm.
A spokesman for the tribunal Nenad Golcevski confirmed he died after “he drank a liquid while in court and quickly fell ill”,
Golcevski added: “One of the six defendants… passed away today in the HMC hospital in The Hague” despite efforts to save him in hospital.
Croatia’s state-run TV service said he died in hospital in the Netherlands, a statement which was later confirmed by Prime Minister Andrej Plenković, who offered condolences to his family.
Mr Plenkovic said at a press conference that “we have all unfortunately witnessed his act by which he took his own life. His act mostly speaks about a deep moral injustice towards six Croats from Bosnia and the Croatian people … We voice dissatisfaction and regret about the verdict”.
Judge Agius declared the courtroom to be a crime scene as he restarted the hearing, though gave no further details.