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Karadzic boycotts start of war crimes trial

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Karadzic boycotts trial
  • U.N. judges adjourn trial of Radovan Karadzic after he refuses to appear
  • Ex-Bosnian Serb leader on genocide charges at International Criminal Tribunal
  • Prosecutors seek to impose lawyer on Karadzic if he refuses to cooperate
  • Karadzic was arrested last year in Belgrade after more than a decade on the run

The Hague, Netherlands (CNN) -- U.N. judges adjourned the long-awaited war-crimes trial of Radovan Karadzic on Monday after the former Bosnian Serb leader refused to appear on the opening day.

Karadzic, who is accused of masterminding the worst massacre in Europe since World War II, claimed he did not have enough time to prepare his defense. He is representing himself.

Prosecutors opened the trial by urging judges to impose a lawyer on Karadzic if he continued to refuse to cooperate.

The judges adjourned the case after the prosecutor's comments.

The break prompted an angry reaction in the public gallery from about a dozen women from Srebrenica, the Bosnian town where more than 7,000 Muslim men and boys were killed by Bosnian Serb troops in July 1995.

The women say they spent a lot of money to come to trial by bus and want to see it begin. They say they have no money for a hotel and are threatening to sleep outside the court building until the trial begins.

Video: Killings of Srebrenica
Video: One soldier's tale
Radovan Karadzic Timeline

Karadzic faces 11 counts of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity against Bosnian Muslims, Bosnian Croats and other non-Serbian civilians during the brutal and bloody dissolution of Yugoslavia in the 1990s. Bosnia and Herzegovina was a part of Yugoslavia at the time.

The conflict introduced the phrase "ethnic cleansing" into the lexicon describing war crimes, as different factions in multi-ethnic Yugoslavia sought to kill or drive out other groups.

Karadzic was arrested last year after more than a decade on the run and was found to have been living in Belgrade, the capital of Serbia, and practicing alternative medicine in disguise.

In a letter dated Wednesday and made public Thursday, Karadzic complained to the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia that he had not been given the relevant case material on time. And he said the volume of material would have been too much to go through even if he had received it promptly.

"I ask Your Excellencies -- why and how is it possible that the prosecution is allowed to literally bury me under a million of pages, only to start disclosing relevant material many months after my arrest?" he writes.

"Why and how is it possible that the prosecution is allowed to file its final indictment against me on the eve of the planned trial date?"

He promised to continue his preparations in "the most intensive way" and inform the court when he is ready.

The genocide charges against Karadzic stem partly from the killings at Srebrenica, the most notorious massacre of the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Memories of the massacre remain raw. Watch the video Video

Prosecutors at the U.N. war crimes tribunal accuse Karadzic of responsibility.

"On 8 March 1995, Karadzic instructed Bosnian Serb forces under his command to create an unbearable situation of total insecurity with no hope of further survival for the inhabitants of Srebrenica, amongst other places," the tribunal said in a statement this month.

The Hague indictment also says Karadzic committed genocide when forces under his command killed non-Serbs during and after attacks in more than a dozen Bosnian municipalities in the early stages of the war.

Karadzic, who faces life in prison if he is convicted, denies the charges. The court cannot impose the death penalty.

When he was arrested in July 2008, Karadzic had grown a large white beard and let his famous steel-gray hair grow long and turn white. He had spent more than 13 years in hiding, during which he practiced alternative medicine at a Belgrade clinic.

Karadzic's arrest leaves his former military commander, Ratko Mladic, as the highest-ranking fugitive still being sought by the war crimes tribunal.

Prosecutor Alan Tieger told the court in July that the case against Karadzic would take approximately 490 hours. That means prosecutors are likely to need more than a year to lay out their evidence, a court spokeswoman said.

The 1992-95 Bosnian war was the longest of the wars spawned by the breakup of Yugoslavia in the early 1990s. Backed by the government of then-Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, Bosnian Serb forces seized control of more than half the country and launched a campaign against the Muslim and Croat populations.

Karadzic was removed from power in 1995, when the Dayton Accords that ended the Bosnian war barred anyone accused of war crimes from holding office.

His successor as Bosnian Serb leader, Biljana Plavsic, is due to be released from prison on Tuesday after serving six years and four months for crimes against humanity. She has been serving her sentence in Sweden, whose Justice Ministry announced her pending release October 22.

Milosevic died in 2006 while on trial at The Hague.

CNN Senior International Correspondent Nic Robertson in The Hague and Claudia Rebaza in London, England, contributed to this report.