Judges at the United Nations war crimes court yesterday imposed a defence lawyer on Slobodan Milosevic, ruling that his continuing illnesses made it impossible for him to defend himself.

A British barrister, Steven Kay, was picked to defend the former Yugoslav president in light of his continuing illness and inability to defend himself in what is the world’s longest- ever war crimes trial.

The decision ends months of agonising by the three-strong panel of judges over whether the ailing Milosevic is too ill to run his own case.

“The accused is not fit enough to defend himself,” said the presiding judge, Patrick Robinson.

Milosevic, 63, sitting in the dock, was furious and demanded the right to appeal.

“I want the appeals chamber to consider this decision of yours illegal,” he said. “You cannot deny me the right to defend myself.”

In a fraught session in the tribunal’s Courtroom One, Milosevic accused the court of trying to muzzle him, saying “when it’s the turn of the truth to be told, I am silenced”.

Mr Robinson then cut off the power to Milosevic’s microphone, telling him the decision had already been taken. Milosevic threw up his hands and said: “So go ahead and deal with it.”

Mr Kay is a QC based in London, who has already been present at the trial, working in the advisory role of amici curea, or friend of the court.

He had earlier in the case argued passionately for Milosevic to retain the right to defend himself.

Since the case opened in February 2002 Milosevic, on trial for charges including genocide and crimes against humanity, has frequently clashed with judges who have accused him of making political statements.

Bouts of flu and high blood pressure have seen months of court time lost, and the start of his defence case was delayed five times this summer, with doctors ruling him unfit to stand trial.

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