THE HAGUE, Netherlands - Last seen as a swaggering general in the Bosnia war, Ratko Mladic needed help rising from his chair Friday for war-crimes judges, his limp right hand too weak to put on earphones without assistance.
But as his arraignment proceeded, his old bluster returned as Mladic, 69, called his indictment "obnoxious" and told the judges he didn't want help walking "as if I were a blind man."
The capture and trial of the Bosnian Serb commander on charges of genocide and war crimes committed during the 1992-95 Bosnian war closes the bloodiest chapter in European history since World War II. It is also nearly the final act of the Yugoslav tribunal, a court that launched a renewed era of international justice after the Nuremberg trials of Nazi war criminals.
Mladic, with his former political boss Radovan Karadzic, is accused of orchestrating the four-year war for Serbian domination in Bosnia that cost 100,000 lives and climaxed with the July 1995 massacre of 8,000 Muslim men and boys in the U.N.-declared safe zone of Srebrenica.
After his 16 years on the run, the first clear glimpse the world got of Mladic came after a curtain separating the public gallery and the courtroom was lifted Friday. Wearing a peaked cap, he saluted the gallery with his left hand through bulletproof glass. Observers stood and strained to see him.
Two U.N. guards helped Mladic to his feet when the judges entered, and he saluted them as well. With his right arm apparently impaired, a guard had to help him put earphones over his head to hear the Serbian translation. When he responded to questions from the judge, his speech was slow and slightly slurred.
Mladic declined to enter formal pleas to the 11-count indictment but admitted no guilt. "I defended my country and my people," he said, before presiding judge Alphons Orie cut him short.
Mladic told the three-judge panel he was "gravely ill," but he remained alert throughout the hearing, nodding or shaking his head as Orie spoke. He seemed confused as Orie read a summary of the 38-page indictment, and said he had been unable to read the thick file of legal documents that he was given after being extradited Tuesday from Serbia.
"I would like to read these obnoxious charges leveled against me," he said. "I need more than a month for these monstrous words. I have never heard such words."
Orie scheduled a new hearing for July 4. If Mladic again refuses to plead to the charges, judges will file not-guilty pleas on his behalf.
As the hearing ended, rape victim Bakira Hasecic shouted from the gallery: "Monster man! Butcher!"
Mladic's family said after his arrest that he had suffered two strokes during his years in hiding. He was given a medical exam after his transfer to the U.N. detention unit at the seaside suburb of Scheveningen, and tribunal spokeswoman Nerma Jelacic said no evidence had been found of "life-threatening illnesses."
Mladic's trial is likely to last several years. As Mladic faced his judges, Karadzic's 18-month-old trial continued in a courtroom steps away. It was not clear if the two men, who collaborated closely during the war, have met yet in the U.N. jail.