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War chief downs poison in the dock and dies as jail sentence is upheld

Defiant to
the end:
Slobodan
Praljak
downs the
liquid in
court PIC: AP

A WARLORD died after drinking poison in court yesterday when his appeal against a 20-year jail sentence was turned down.

Slobodan Praljak drank from a small bottle then yelled: ‘I am not a war criminal,’ when his conviction was upheld at The Hague.

As the verdict was delivered, the 72-year-old Bosnian Croat stood up, tilted his head back, swallowed a liquid and said: ‘I have taken poison. I oppose this conviction.’

Judge Carmel Agius immediately suspended the hearing of the UN’s International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.

He declared the chamber a ‘crime scene’ as medics treated Praljak. ‘Don’t take away the glass!’ he said, instructing the guards to lower blinds and block a partition.

After gulping down the drink, Praljak slumped in his chair, according to a lawyer who was in the courtroom at the time. Tribunal spokesman Nenad Golcevski said Praljak ‘quickly fell ill’ and died in hospital. It was not immediately clear how he obtained the poison and smuggled it into court.

He was one of six former politicians and army chiefs in court over their role to drive Muslims out of a would-be Bosnian Croat mini-state during the Bosnian war in the early 1990s. Praljak was jailed for crimes against humanity in 2013. Though judges yesterday overturned some of his convictions his sentence was left unchanged.

The tribunal, which last week convicted ex-Bosnian Serb military chief Gen Ratko Mladic of genocide, closes next month after 24 years.