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War criminal who said he drank poison in Hague courtroom has died

In this photo provided by the ICTY on Wednesday, Slobodan Praljak brings a bottle to his lips during a Yugoslav War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague, Netherlands. Praljak yelled, "I am not a war criminal!" and appeared to drink from a small bottle, seconds after judges reconfirmed his 20-year prison sentence for involvement in a campaign to drive Muslims out of a would-be Bosnian Croat ministate in Bosnia in the early 1990s. | ICTY, distributed by the Associated Press

THE HAGUE, Netherlands — A spokesman for a United Nations’ war crimes court has confirmed that a former Bosnian Croat general died in a Dutch hospital shortly after drinking a liquid in a courtroom where judges had just confirmed his 20-year sentence.

Slobodan Praljak, 72, died Wednesday despite efforts to save him, Nenad Golcevski told reporters Wednesday at the U.N. International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.

“Mr. Praljak drank a liquid while in court and quickly fell ill,” Golcevski said. “The ICTY medical staff immediately assisted Mr. Praljak. Simultaneously an ambulance was summoned. Mr. Praljak was transported to a nearby hospital to receive further medical assistance, where he passed.”

In a stunning end to the final case at the tribunal, Praljak yelled, “I am not a war criminal!” and appeared to drink from a small bottle.

In this photo provided by the ICTY on Wednesday, Slobodan Praljak brings a bottle to his lips, during a Yugoslav War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague, Netherlands. | ICTY, distributed by the Associated Press

Presiding Judge Carmel Agius had overturned some of Praljak’s convictions but left his sentence unchanged.

Praljak had been involved in a campaign to drive Muslims out of a would-be Bosnian Croat ministate in Bosnia in the early 1990s. He is one of six Bosnian Croat political and military leaders who, with significant support from neighboring Croatia, turned against the Bosnian Army during the 1992-95 war, trying to establish an ethnically homogenous Croat region within Bosnia by force, just like Bosnian Serbs did in other areas with help from Serbia.

Before the war, Praljak directed in various theaters, including in Mostar where he was eventually accused of command responsibility for the destruction of the Old Bridge in Mostar, one of the most striking Ottoman monuments in the Balkans, and a jewel of Bosnia’s Islamic heritage.

A judge at the U.N. war crimes tribunal for the former Yugoslavia says that the court room where Praljak claimed to have taken poison is now being considered as a crime scene. Nenad Golcevski, a spokesman for the International Criminal Tribunal, had said shortly after Praljak drank from the bottle that he was “still alive and is receiving medical treatment.”

A lawyer who has frequently defended suspects at the U.N. war crimes court in the Netherlands said it would be easy to bring poison into the court.

Prominent Serbian lawyer Toma Fila told The Associated Press on Wednesday that it is “absolutely possible” to bring poison into the court in the Hague. He says security for lawyers and other court staff “is just like at an airport.”

Fila said: “They inspect metal objects, like belts, metal money, shoes, and take away mobile phones.”

He added that “pills and small quantities of liquids” would not be registered.

The hearing was suspended after the incident. Three other defendants are still waiting to hear the results of their appeals.

Croatian state TV says President Kolinda Grabar Kitarovic has decided to cut short an official visit to Iceland and the government is holding an emergency session after the incident.

Croatian officials have also denounced the U.N. judges for upholding a finding that late Croat President Franjo Tudjman was a member of a plan to create a Croat mini-state in Bosnia. Tudjman’s son, Miroslav, said Praljak’s move was a “consequence of his moral position not to accept the verdict that has nothing to do with justice or reality.”

Three out of six suspects at the last case at the war crimes tribunal for the former Yugoslavia have had their sentences confirmed, although some of their convictions were overturned by appeal judges.

Wednesday’s hearing is the final case to be completed at the groundbreaking International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia before it closes its doors next month. The tribunal, which last week convicted former Bosnian Serb military chief Gen. Ratko Mladic of genocide and other crimes, was set up in 1993, while fighting still raged in the former Yugoslavia. It indicted 161 suspects and convicted 90 of them.