SARAJEVO (Reuters) – The trial of Bosnian Serb separatist leader Milorad Dodik on charges of defying the rulings of an international peace envoy formally begun on Monday after delays due to his protests against judges he said were biased and other complaints.

Dodik´s legal team has repeatedly demanded delays of the trial for various procedural matters. His lawyer Goran Bubic on Monday requested that the newly-appointed judge in the case, Sena Uzunovic, also be exempted for alleged bias.

Judge Uzunovic said prosecutors must read out the indictment despite his protest.

Dodik, who is the president of Bosnia´s autonomous Serb Republic, was indicted in August by state prosecutors after signing laws that suspended rulings by the constitutional court and by international peace envoy Christian Schmidt, a former German minister.

The trial is taking place at Bosnia´s state court in the capital Sarajevo. It reflects political divisions in Bosnia, where Dodik has consistently worked to undermine state institutions and the office of the envoy, who has powers to impose laws and sack officials seen as obstructing the peace in Bosnia.

Dodik has acted to separate his Serb-dominated region from Bosnia – where around 100,000 people died in the war in the 1990s – for a long time but has intensified his efforts over the past two years.

Under rules brought in to prevent the country sliding back into war, any official in Bosnia who fails to implement a decision of the international envoy – known as the High Representative – or obstruct it in any way can be jailed for from six months to five years.

The Serbs do not recognise Schmidt as the High Representative, saying that he was not endorsed by the United Nations Security Council.

The state court dismissed Bubic’s earlier requests for eight judges to be exempted from the case over alleged political biases against Dodik.

In Monday’s proceedings, Judge Uzunovic said Dodik’s lawyer’s request for her exemption did not automatically mean that the reading of the indictment should be postponed again.

“The defence has the right to state its opinions and file requests but we are here because of an indictment filed by the prosecutors,” she said.

Prosecutor Gordana Bosiljcic said Dodik had committed a criminal act by failing to comply with the High Representative´s decisions.

Dodik´s supporters in the court gallery, including top Serb Republic officials, stood up and protested, prompting the judge to order them to leave.

Asked if he has understood the indictment, Dodik said he did not understand any part of it and that it represented a “distortion of facts”.

“It has not been backed by a single fact, it was done under political pressure by incompetent prosecutors,” Dodik told the judge.

(Reporting by Daria Sito-Sucic, Editing by Angus MacSwan)

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