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Courtroom drama as war crimes suspect drinks ‘poison’ on live TV – VIDEO

In a stunning drama at a UN war crimes court Wednesday, a former Bosnian Croat military leader appeared to drink poison seconds after judges upheld his 20-year sentence.

At his appeal judgement at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, Slobodan Praljak, 72, shouted out angrily: “Praljak is not a criminal. I reject your verdict.”

He then raised a small brown bottle to his lips, and drank it down in full view of the cameras filming the hearing.

The unprecedented scenes happened just after the judges in their final judgement also upheld a 25-year prison term against Jadranko Prlic, the former prime minister of a breakaway Bosnian Croat statelet during the 1990s Balkans wars.

But the hearing was quickly suspended as Praljak’s lawyer shouted out: “My client says he has taken poison.”

As court officials surrounded Praljak, presiding judge Carmel Agius immediately ordered the proceedings suspended and the curtains surrounding the courtroom were closed.

EMERGENCY RESCUE

Within minutes AFP journalists saw an ambulance arrive outside the tribunal in The Hague, while a helicopter hovered overhead.

Several emergency rescue workers also rushed into the building carrying equipment in backpacks. Court officials called for calm.

Praljak was specifically charged with ordering the destruction of Mostar’s 16th-century bridge in November 1993, which judges in the first trial had said “caused disproportionate damage to the Muslim civilian population”.

A symbol of Bosnia’s devastation in the war, the Ottoman-era bridge was later rebuilt. But the city saw the worst of the Croat-Muslim clashes, with nearly 80 percent of the city’s east destroyed in the fighting.

But in their ruling, the judges in fact allowed part of Praljak’s appeal, saying the bridge had been a legitimate military target during the conflict.

“It’s just an old bridge,” Praljak said in 1993, showing no regard for the emotional effect the destruction had on ordinary Bosnians of all ethnic backgrounds.

Bosnian Croats and Muslims were allies against the Serbs but fought each other for 11 months from 1993-1994. Praljak commanded Bosnian Croat forces known as the HVO from July to November 1993.