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Milosevic found dead in cell


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CNN) -- Former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic has been found dead in his cell in The Hague, Netherlands where he was being tried on war crimes charges, according to the United Nations war crimes tribunal. He was 64.

An official in the chief prosecutor's office said Milosevic was found at about 10 a.m. Saturday and that he apparently had been dead for several hours. An autopsy will be performed, the official said.

Milosevic rose to the top of Yugoslav politics in the power vacuum left by the 1980 death of post-World War Two Yugoslav dictator Marshal Tito.

Elected Serbian president in 1990, he ruled with an iron grip until his overthrow in 2000. He was transferred to the Hague in 2001 and went on trial the following year. (Profile)

Referring to the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, Milosevic's widow, Mirjana, told CNN: "The tribunal has killed my husband."

Reacting to the death, French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy said the many victims of the bloody Balkan wars should not be forgotten. (Watch the bloody story of the Balkans wars)

"With the death of Milosevic, one of the main actors if not the main actor in the Balkan wars of the late 20th century has left the scene.

"I would like to spare a thought for all those who suffered so much from ethnic cleansing, tens of thousands of men, women and children, which Milosevic conceived and planned."

The tribunal did not say how Milosevic had died but Douste-Blazy told reporters he died of natural causes.

"Milosevic was found lifeless on his bed in his cell at the United Nations detention unit," the U.N. tribunal said in a statement.

"The guard immediately alerted the detention unit officer in command and the medical officer. The latter confirmed that Slobodan Milosevic was dead."

The tribunal said Dutch police and coroners were called in and started an inquiry.

The former Serbian president had been on trial on 66 charges of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes during the bloody disintegration of Yugoslavia in the 1990s.

Milosevic had suffered a heart condition and high blood pressure that had repeatedly interrupted his trial in the Hague.

The tribunal had recently rejected Milosevic's request to travel to Russia for specialist medical treatment, CNN's Christiane Amanpour reported. Milosevic had said he would appeal against the decision, saying his health was worsening.

CNN's Brent Sadler, who reported on the bloody Balkans wars of the 1990s, said there would now likely be an adverse backlash in Serbia as it grapples with huge international pressure to hand over alleged war criminals Ratko Mladic and Radovan Karadzic. (Full story)

"Much of Milosevic's trial was transmitted on Serbian and international television and people there haven't been allowed to forget their former president.

"Politicians and the people were already split over war crime suspects and it is going to make the issue of the handover of Mladic and Karadzic even more divisive," Sadler said.

Milosevic's death comes a day before the third anniversary of the assassination of Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic.

It also comes amid diplomatic efforts this year to determine the future of Kosovo, the disputed region of Serbia dominated by Albanians.

The United Nations has administered Kosovo since the North Atlantic Treaty Organization drove out Yugoslav troops in 1999 amid grave human rights abuses in the fighting between Serbs and Albanians.

Ethnic Albanians in Kosovo outnumber other ethnic groups, mainly Serbs, by about 9 to 1.

Ethnic strife

Milosevic's war crimes trial at the Hague had just entered its fifth year when he died.

The long legal proceeding was in its defense phase when it began, a marathon proceeding covering 66 counts involving war crimes from the Balkan conflict in the 1990s.

The counts included his role in the fighting in the disputed Serbian province of Kosovo and the civil warfare in Bosnia and Croatia after the breakup of Yugoslavia.

That country, a non-Warsaw Pact communist nation composed of six separate republics, raged with ethnic strife as it broke apart during the fall of communism.

One of many Balkan war crimes suspects who have been brought to The Hague, Milosevic was the best-known symbol and the most politically powerful, and authorities had been attempting to prove that he backed or even authorized violence by Serb forces.

He faced charges of crimes against humanity, violations of the laws and customs of war, and genocide, an explosive charge emanating from the Bosnian conflict, in which tens of thousands of Bosnian Muslims were killed or chased from their homes by Bosnian Serb forces.

In Srebrenica, about 8,000 males were killed, while Sarajevo was terrorized by a Bosnian-Serb-led siege. (Full story)

He pleaded not guilty to all counts and faced life in prison.

Milosevic had repeatedly said he was not responsible for ordering killings and rapes and was defending the Serbian people against terror.

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