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The protesters lined up outside the cathedral on Monday evening, each carrying a placard bearing the name of one of the victims of a 1993 massacre in Ahmici in central Bosnia, for which Kordic was jailed for 25 years by the Hague Tribunal.

They staged the protest after Kordic arrived in Croatia on Friday after serving two-thirds of his sentence, and was welcomed at Zagreb airport by some 200 supporters including Vlado Kosic, a Catholic bishop from Sisak.

Another welcome-home ceremony for Kordic was organised in front of the cathedral in Zagreb, a day after his arrival, following a church service held in his honour by bishop Valentin Pozaic.

One of the protesters, Eugen Jakovcic, from local human rights NGO Documenta – Centre for Dealing With the Past, said that war criminals should not be celebrated as heroes.

“We are gathered in front of the cathedral to send a different message from that seen at the airport last Friday, and we really believe that it is unacceptable to call someone a ‘knight’ and warmly welcome a person who has encouraged, planned and organised such a serious crime in which more than 100 civilians lost their lives,” said Jakovcic.

“This gathering was initiated by ordinary citizens due to the image shown in front of the cathedral in Zagreb, where a service was held by bishop Pozaic to honour Kordic,” Jakovcic added.

Kordic was convicted as a former leader of the self-proclaimed wartime statelet called the Croatian Republic of Herceg-Bosna for “planning and instigating the crimes which occurred in Ahmici on 16 April 1993 and its associated hamlets Santici, Pirici and Nadioci at ethnically cleansing the area” by the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia in 2004.

Judgements at the Hague Tribunal have said that Herceg-Bosna was founded with the intention of splitting the territory from Bosnia and Herzegovina and uniting it with a ‘Greater Croatia’.

Six of its other leaders were convicted last year of taking part in a joint criminal enterprise aimed at forcibly removing Bosniaks, and sentenced to 111 years in total.

Josip Ivanović BIRN Zagreb