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Croatian Ceremony Honors Convicted War Criminal Praljak

People attend a commemoration for Bosnian Croat war criminal Slobodan Praljak at Lisinski hall in Zagreb on December 11.
People attend a commemoration for Bosnian Croat war criminal Slobodan Praljak at Lisinski hall in Zagreb on December 11.

Several thousand people have attended a ceremony in Zagreb to honor convicted Bosnian Croat war criminal Slobodan Praljak, who died of cyanide poisoning last month.

The 72-year-old Praljak drank from a vial moments after a UN appeals judge upheld his 20-year sentence on war crimes charges at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) on November 29. He died shortly afterward.

About 2,000 people, including two government ministers, filled the main concert hall in Zagreb on December 11 to attend the ceremony, while hundreds more crowded together into the building's entry and hallways to watch on giant TV screens.

Praljak had a private funeral in Zagreb last week, according to Croatian media reports.

A former commander of Bosnian Croat forces in Bosnia-Herzegovina's 1992-95 war, Praljak was convicted in 2013 of crimes including murder, persecution, and deportation for his role in a plan to carve out a Bosnian Croat ministate in Bosnia in the early 1990s.

Many in Croatia consider Praljak a hero despite his conviction for war crimes. For days after his death, Praljak's photo was on display at Zagreb's main square, where people lit candles.

Also on December 11, members of the Youth Initiative for Human Rights group lit candles in downtown Zagreb for the victims of the Bosnian war, urging condemnation of the era's belligerent policies, and stating they do not sympathize with war criminals.

Croatian officials have criticized the ruling against Praljak and five other former Bosnian Croat officials.

Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic initially slammed the "deep moral injustice" of the court's verdict for the six men. But Plenkovic later recanted his criticism, saying that Croatia, which is a member of the European Union and NATO, respected the decisions of the UN court.

"The position is very clear: the verdict is respected," he said on December 5, during a news conference in Bosnia.

Plenkovic also said he wanted "to express regrets and condolences very clearly for all the victims of the crimes mentioned in this verdict."

With reporting by AFP and AP
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