The atmosphere was tense in Croatia on Friday morning as the nation waited to hear the decision on the appeals of generals Ante Gotovina and Mladen Markač, who were convicted last year of crimes against humanity in an international court in The Hague. When it was announced that the convictions were overturned
, the generals were freed from their prison sentences immediately. Church bells could be heard ringing throughout Croatia.
Gotovina and Markač had been convicted last year of crimes against humanity during Croatia's Homeland War. General Gotovina was a key figure in Operation Storm, the military operation credited with ending Croatia's war for independence in 1995. He is a national hero throughout Croatia.
With news of the acquittals, Croatia sent a plane to the Netherlands to bring the freed generals to Zagreb. They were welcomed in the early evening by over 100,000 joyful Croats
who started the party on Ban Josip Jelačić square that morning when the court's decision was broadcast.
Scores of smiling riot police were present in the event that the crowd became unruly. A local man commented, "They are celebrating with us, and no one is going to jail for anything tonight. We are usually very divided people, but tonight we are all one, together."
One local woman said, "It's like we won the war again."
The spirit of unity and joy was overwhelmingly palpable as tens of thousands sang, danced, waved flags and drank together on the square and throughout the city. The celebration on the main square ended without incident. Citizens of Zagreb continue to celebrate the acquittals throughout the city with fireworks and pig roasts.