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Milosevic died of heart failure - media

Written by: Staff

THE HAGUE, Mar 13 (Reuters) Slobodan Milosevic's death only months before a verdict in his war crimes trial was caused by heart failure, Serbian state television reportedy.

Quoting what it called unofficial but reliable sources, the television's correspondent in The Hague said pathologists examining Milosevic's body found he had died from ''classical heart failure''.

A UN war crimes tribunal official said a statement would be issued shortly on the death of Milosevic, branded the ''Butcher of the Balkans'' over the conflicts of the 1990s.

CNN television, quoting unidentified sources close to the UN war crimes tribunal in The Hague, yesterday said Milosevic died of a ''massive heart attack''. It said it was not certain yet whether he had died of natural causes but that would become clear after the results of toxicology tests.

The reports followed an autopsy on the body of the 64-year-old former Yugoslav president conducted by Dutch scientists and attended by senior pathologists from Serbia.

Milosevic, who suffered from a heart condition and high blood pressure, was found dead in his cell.

He was charged with 66 counts of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes in indictments covering conflicts in Bosnia, Croatia and Kosovo as Yugoslavia imploded in the 1990s.

BALKAN WARS UN chief prosecutor Carla del Ponte said earlier on Sunday it was possible Milosevic had committed suicide and that his death made it all the more urgent to catch others blamed for the horrors of the Balkan wars.

Del Ponte said he might have wanted to thwart the impending verdict in his marathon war crimes trial, which she said she had expected to be one of guilty, followed by a life sentence.

She noted it was the second death in a week at the Hague tribunal's detention centre. Former Croatian Serb leader Milan Babic took his own life last Sunday.

Milosevic's lawyer Zdenko Tomanovic said his client had feared he was being poisoned, but the tribunal rejected a request for the autopsy to be done in Russia, close ally of the former Yugoslavia and home to Milosevic's wife, brother and son.

Tomanovic said his client had written to Russia asking for help a day before his death, adding he had been given the wrong drugs -- including some for leprosy -- in a bid to silence him.

Cardiologists treating Milosevic in The Hague had warned he was at risk of a life-threatening condition known as a hypertensive emergency, when surges in blood pressure can damage the heart, kidneys and central nervous system.

Reports emerged indicating Milosevic may have had suspicious traces in his blood or had not been taking medication.

A blood sample from Milosevic in January contained traces of drugs used to treat leprosy or tuberculosis that can neutralise medicine for high blood pressure and heart problems, Dutch public TV NOS reported, quoting an unnamed tribunal adviser.

Leo Bokeria, head of the Bakulev Cardio-Vascular Surgery Centre in Moscow, told Russian television doctors treating Milosevic in The Hague had suspected he was secretly spitting out the medicines for high blood pressure they gave him.

PROBE ORDERED Tribunal president Fausto Pocar said he had ordered a full inquiry and that Dutch authorities were also investigating.

Both Pocar and Del Ponte said they regretted the death.

''It deprives the victims of the justice they need and deserve,'' Del Ponte told a news conference in The Hague.

''Now more than ever I expect Serbia to finally arrest and transfer Ratko Mladic and Radovan Karadzic to the Hague as soon as possible. The death of Slobodan Milosevic makes it even more urgent for them to face justice,'' she said.

Serbia is under pressure to transfer Bosnian Serb leader Karadzic and his military commander Mladic -- like Milosevic both accused of genocide -- to The Hague or jeopardise its hopes of joining the European Union, up for discussion next month.

Serbia and Montenegro's Minister for Human Rights and Ethnic Minorities, Rasim Ljajic, flew to The Hague on Sunday.

It was not clear whether Milosevic's widow Mira Markovic would come to The Hague to collect his body. She visited him at the detention centre until 2003, when she fled Serbia for Russia to avoid arrest on charges of abusing her power.

Serbian President Boris Tadic said Milosevic should not receive a state burial and he would not grant an amnesty to his widow, who faces arrest should she return home.

Eight Serb women laid flowers at the tribunal entrance today. Milosevic's rump Socialist Party said the former president should get a national hero's funeral, but apart from a vigil by 100 die-hard and mostly elderly supporters at his old party office on Saturday, there was little display of emotion.

By contrast, hundreds placed wreaths in Belgrade on the grave of reformist president Zoran Djindjic, who ousted Milosevic and who was assassinated three years ago today.

''He is the man who had the courage to bring Slobodan Milosevic to The Hague,'' Del Ponte said.

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