Slobodan Milosevic, Serbia's Former Leader, Dies in Prison Cell
(Bloomberg) -- Slobodan Milosevic, the ousted leader of the former Yugoslavia who was facing charges of war crimes committed during the 1990s Balkan wars, died today in his prison cell.
Milosevic was found lifeless on his bed at the UN Detention Unit in Scheveningen, the Netherlands today, according to a statement on the Web Site of the UN's International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia. Tribunal President Fausto Pocar has ordered a full inquiry, the statement said.
Milosevic, the first head of state to face an international war crimes trial, was 64.
He was extradited to The Hague in 2001, and his trial had to be adjourned several times because of his deteriorating health. He suffered from high blood pressure and risked heart attacks. In November 2002, judges in the case ordered him to undergo a psychiatric review to assess the strain of the trial.
Milosevic died more than five years after being driven from power in a popular uprising in October 2000. His downfall ended his 13-year rule in Serbia, former Yugoslavia's most populous republic, and brought an end to a decade of wars in the region.
He faced a maximum sentence of life imprisonment for his role in the bloody breakup of Yugoslavia, which claimed more than 250,000 lives.
Milosevic was charged with more than 60 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity arising from wars in Bosnia, Croatia and Kosovo. He didn't recognize the court, and conducted his own defense, denying all charges.
Milosevic rose to power in Serbia during the 1980s as the leadership of the former Yugoslavia disintegrated after the death in 1980 of Josip Broz Tito, who had led the country since World War II. By 1991, when Slovenia and Croatia seceded from the federation, Milosevic was firmly in power in Serbia.
His immense popularity had its roots in a 1987 incident, when he was sent to Kosovo to calm a crowd of protesting Serbs who demonstrated against alleged attacks by ethnic Albanians. He told them that no one would be allowed to beat them. Television cameras caught the moment and the message was spread.
Milosevic's image as the protector of Serb interests enabled him to remain in power for years, taking the country from one losing war to another. That process culminated in the bombing of Serbia by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in 1999 for Milosevic's attempt at ethnic cleansing of Albanians in the province of Kosovo, while the Serbian economy crumbled.
Earlier, Milosevic had signed the Dayton Peace agreement with the administration of former U.S. President Bill Clinton in 1995, ending the war in Bosnia.
As his support dwindled during the 1990s, Milosevic used the police and the army to put down demonstrations and gradually bring the media under state control. Crime and corruption flourished, and only businesses supportive of the regime were rewarded.
Serbia in Ruins
He left Serbia in ruins. By the time of his downfall, the country's gross domestic product had shrunk by two-thirds, central bank reserves were about $300 million, the banking system was non-existent, and industry was damaged by years of international sanctions. Many roads, bridges and power plants were bombed by NATO in 1999.
Even as Serbia charged Milosevic in September 2003 with ordering the murder and attempted murder of two political opponents, the former leader was planning his return to politics, according to officials from his Socialist Party of Serbia.
The ousted leader, known in Serbia as ``Slobo,'' headed his party's list in the December 2003 parliamentary elections.
Milosevic was overthrown in 2000 after losing a presidential election to Vojislav Kostunica, who led a group of opposition parties.
Family of a Priest
Milosevic was born Aug. 20, 1941, in the Serbian town of Pozarevac to a family of a priest and a teacher. Both his parents committed suicide during his youth.
After graduating from the Faculty of Law at the Belgrade University in 1964, Milosevic joined the Communist Party.
He later pursued a career in Yugoslav state companies, rising to director of a state-owned natural gas company and later joined Beobanka, one of the country's largest banks. He became the leader of the Serbian Communist Party in 1987.
In his opening statement at the United Nations trial on Aug. 31, 2004, he called the accusations against him ``unscrupulous lies,'' according to Agence France-Presse.
``In the international public for a long time an untruthful and distorted picture was created about what happened in Yugoslavia,'' AFP cited Milosevic as saying in court.
During the trial, wearing a tie with Serbian flag colors, Milosevic passionately defended his politics. He also argued with prosecution's witnesses, including Wesley Clark, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization's commander during the bombing of Yugoslavia in 1999. Clark later said that there was no change in Milosevic's stubbornness. Milosevic had accused NATO of committing war crimes against Serbia.