By Aleksandar Vasovic
BELGRADE (Reuters) - Thousands of Serbian nationalists gathered in Belgrade and in Bosnia on Sunday to protest against the arrest of Bosnian Serb wartime general Ratko Mladic, with many calling him a hero.
Supporters of the ultranationalist Serbian Radical Party and other similar organizations were brought by bus from across the country for an evening rally in the Serbian capital.
"We are here to show these traitors how real Serbs will defend a Serbian hero," said Jovica Pesic, 22, who arrived from the central Serbian town of Uzice.
Mladic, indicted for genocide in the 43-month siege of Sarajevo and the massacre of 8,000 Muslims in Srebrenica during Bosnia's 1992-95 war, was found on Thursday in a village 100 km (60 miles) northeast of Belgrade after 16 years on the run.
Mladic's son Darko said the former general had denied responsibility for the Srebrenica massacre during a visit on Sunday.
"Whatever was done in Srebrenica, he had nothing to do with that. He saved so many women, children and soldiers, his orders were first to evacuate the wounded, then women and children, then captured soldiers," he told reporters.
Serbia's war crimes court has ruled that Mladic is fit to travel to the U.N. war crimes court in The Hague and has served extradition papers.
In Bosnia, about one thousand of his supporters rallied in the eastern town of Kalinovik where Mladic spent his childhood.
A banner hung over the main street, saying: "Welcome to Mladicevo" (Mladic's town). Young and old people waved Serbian flags and carried Mladic posters, many wearing traditional hats with the Serbian coats-of-arms on it.
"He was and has remained a hero for us, the defender of the Serb people, our commander-in-chief who defended us," said a young man, who gave only his first name, Srdjan.
A woman dressed in black lashed out at Serbian President Boris Tadic, whom many Bosnian Serbs regard as a traitor because of Mladic's arrest.
"He should be ashamed," said the woman who did not want to be named. "He should expect to go down the river, just as Djindjic did."
The woman was referring to Serbia's former prime minister, Zoran Djindjic, who was assassinated in 2003. Serbia's autocratic leader Slobodan Milosevic had been arrested two years earlier and Djindjic had handed him over to The Hague.
Earlier, Serbia's war crimes court tentatively agreed to allow Mladic to visit his daughter's grave, a court official said, but added that the security services would probably veto the decision.
Mladic's daughter Ana committed suicide in 1994 with her father's handgun and was buried at a cemetery in the outskirts of Belgrade. Before he went underground in early 2000s Mladic was frequently seen visiting her grave.
His lawyer Milos Saljic said he would appeal the extradition ruling on Monday due to Mladic's poor health, adding that Mladic had asked the demonstrators to protest peacefully.
After his arrest, Serbia's police raised the security threat level and deployed riot police near embassies and government buildings.
Dozens of people were wounded in 2008 in riots in Serbia that followed the arrest of Mladic's wartime political leader Radovan Karadzic.
Serbia has said it will now focus on arresting the last war crimes fugitive Goran Hadzic, sought by the U.N. tribunal for war crimes in Croatia during the 1991-1995 war.
Mladic's arrest is instrumental for Serbia's bid to join the European Union.
(additional reporting by Reuters TV and Daria Sito-Sucic in Sarajevo; Editing by Elizabeth Piper)