THE HAGUE Ratko Mladic was ejected from the courtroom at the U.N. war crimes tribunal on Monday after the former Bosnian Serb commander heckled the judge when he read out a charge of genocide and entered a not guilty plea on his behalf.
Mladic, who appeared in the dock despite earlier threatening to stay away, demanded to appoint his own lawyers and tried to delay entering pleas to 11 charges relating to the 1992-5 Bosnian war. It was his second appearance in The Hague since his capture in Serbia six weeks ago ended 16 years on the run.
In a tense hearing that lasted just less than an hour, the 69-year-old former general shouted: "No, no, no! Don't read it to me, not a single word," when judge Alphons Orie moved to read the indictment. The judge warned Mladic that he would have him removed from the court if he continued to interrupt.
"No, no I'm not going to listen to this without my lawyer," Mladic shouted and removed his translation headphones.
The judge then asked guards to remove him from the court.
"You are no court. Who are you? You're not allowing me to breathe," Mladic fumed.
After a brief adjournment screened from view, the hearing resumed before an empty dock. Orie formally noted not guilty pleas to the remaining charges, which stem from the 43-month siege of Sarajevo and the massacre of 8,000 Muslim men and boys in Srebrenica -- Europe's worst massacre since World War Two.
In the public gallery, women from Srebrenica had shouted "murderer, killer" at Mladic, one of the last major suspects in the Balkan wars to face justice. His trial, unlikely to start before next year, may herald the winding up of the tribunal.
Judge Orie had refused Mladic's request to delay his plea but said the court would check whether the lawyers he wanted, a Serbian and a Russian, would at subsequent hearings be allowed to replace the court-appointed attorney acting for him.
Boycotts are not uncommon at the tribunal, where Mladic's civilian partner Radovan Karadzic shunned the start of his trial in October 2009 after his arrest in 2008. But defendants have rarely been expelled so early in the proceedings.
Mladic was represented by court-appointed lawyer Aleksandar Aleksic, but has requested for Belgrade-based military lawyer Milos Saljic and Russian jurist Alexander Mezyayev to represent him. The court is still verifying their eligibility.
Mezyayev, a deputy faculty head at a Russian management school, previously advised former Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic, who died in prison in 2006 while still on trial.
At the start of the hearing, Orie repeatedly asked Mladic to stop exchanging gestures with the public gallery. Mladic said he was only turning his head to try and hear the judge better.
Sitting without the cap he had worn at this first hearing, Mladic, who has said he was "gravely ill," barked at the judge and complained he was "an old man."
"I have to wear a cap because I am too old, and I am cold. One side of my body is not functioning," he said, possibly referring to the after-effects of a stroke. "You are trying to impose impossible conditions on me -- a lawyer I don't want."
Mladic is accused over a campaign to seize territory for Serbs after Bosnia, following Croatia, broke away from the Yugoslav federation. Five years of war across the Balkan territory killed at least 130,000 people.
Hague prosecutor Serge Brammertz has said Mladic used his power to commit atrocities and must answer for it, but Serb nationalists say Mladic defended their nation and did no worse than Croat or Bosnian Muslim army commanders.
Several hundred survivors of the Bosnian war had gathered in Sarajevo to urge the court to force Mladic to respect it. "The survivors' accounts tell enough about the scope of his crimes and the court should not allow him to turn the courtroom into a theater," said Satko Mujagic, who was taken prisoner in the war.
Now that a plea has been entered for Mladic, pre-trial status hearings will be held roughly every three months, but a trial is unlikely to begin until next year at the earliest.