Some 3,000 people, mostly Bosnian Serb former soldiers, angrily protested on Sunday against the arrest of their ex-commander Ratko Mladic in the town where he was born.
The entrance to Kalinovik in southeastern Bosnia was festooned for the protest with a banner bearing three pictures of Mladic and reading "Welcome to Mladicevo," renaming the village after the war crimes suspect.
"The arrest of Ratko Mladic is a trauma for me, it is the biggest tragedy that has happend to the Serbian people. Nothing worse could happen to us," a 37-year-old ex-soldier, Ljubisa Mandic, told AFP at the rally.
"General Mladic is a saint. He was a saviour of Serbs. If not for him, we would no longer exist," he said, adding that he had fought on "several fronts" during Bosnia's 1992-95 inter-ethnic war.
Mladic was born on March 12, 1942, in a hamlet called Bozinovic, part of Kalinovik.
"As a child from Kalinovik, Mladic could not be a war criminal. He was raised in a traditional family where courage and valour were respected," said Sladoje Vajdo, 52, who proudly described himself as another "soldier of Mladic."
Most shop windows in the town were decorated with Mladic's portraits bearing the word "Hero!"
"We are with you general. You are our hero," one placard read.
Mladic was arrested Thursday in northeastern Serbia after nearly 16 years on run. He has been indicted by The Hague-based UN war crimes tribunal for genocide and crimes against humanity over his role during the Bosnian war and is expected to be transferred to the court in the coming days.