Croatian delegation cuts quick Serbia go to after insults in parliament

BELGRADE (Reuters) – A delegation from the Croatian parliament cut short a visit to Serbia on Wednesday after an ultra-nationalist Serb MP insulted them and tried to tear up a Croatian flag.

The visit was part of a renewed effort by the two countries, which began in February to improve relations that have been sour since Croatia waged a war of independence from Yugoslavia in the early 1990s that killed around 20,000 people.

Serbian Radical Party (SRS) leader Vojislav Seselj grabbed a flag in a hall outside the Parliament Chamber in Belgrade, threw it on the floor, stomped on it, trying to tear it apart the whole time while hurling insults, witnesses said.

Security guards tried unsuccessfully to take the flag away. The Croatian delegates, led by Gordan Jandrokovic, Speaker of the Parliament in Zagreb, watched. Another SRS MP joined Seselj.

“Because of this law, which seriously damaged the dignity of the Republic of Croatia … we ended the visit,” the Croatian parliament said in a statement. The two-day trip that had started was supposed to end on Thursday.

Seselj, a former Marxist, founded SRS in the early 1990s and was Deputy Prime Minister under Slobodan Milosevic during the Balkan Wars, in which more than 100,000 people were killed.

The UN war crimes tribunal for the former Yugoslavia last week overturned Seselj’s previous acquittal for persecution and inhuman acts to incite violence during the war.

He had spent 10 years in prison on remand and was released in 2014 to return to Serbia for cancer treatment.

Senior Serbian officials, including Prime Minister Ana Brnabic and Parliament Speaker Maja Gojkovic, condemned the incident.

“Disregarding the state symbols of Croatia … is inadmissible and also represents an insult to the Serbian nation,” Gojkovic said in a statement. She was once a member of the SRS.

“I want to condemn Seselj’s behavior clearly, directly and severely,” Brnabic said in a statement.

Croatia joined the European Union in 2013 and on Wednesday before Jandrokovic said Zagreb was ready to help Serbia with its own application for membership.

Arrangement by Matthew Mpoke Bigg

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