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BELGRADE (Reuters) - Ratko Mladic is fit enough to face genocide charges in The Hague, a Belgrade court ruled on Friday, after the Bosnian Serb wartime general's son said he appeared too frail after more than 15 years on the run.
The court said Mladic, arrested Thursday in a Serbian village, had until Monday to appeal against extradition to the international criminal court to be tried over a massacre in Srebrenica and the siege of Sarajevo during Bosnia's 1992-5 war.
European officials hailed his capture, at a farmhouse belonging to his cousin, as a milestone on Serbia's path toward the European Union and said they expected his extradition within 10 days.
His son, speaking after what he said was his first meeting with his father in years, said he was too ill.
"We are almost certain he cannot be extradited in such condition," said Darko Mladic. "He is in very bad shape. His right arm is half paralyzed. His right side is partly numb."
The once burly and aggressive Mladic, 69, moved slowly and with a slight limp when he appeared before an investigative judge at the special war crimes court in Belgrade Thursday.
Mladic's lawyer later told reporters the court had halted the questioning because his client was "in a serious condition. He is hardly responsive." An official described him as looking disoriented and tired.
"Dead man arrested," ran several Serbian newspaper headlines Friday, with a picture showing a pale and wizened Mladic, the last of the three men accused of instigating ethnic cleansing during the 1992-95 war in Bosnia to be held accountable.
Officials say Mladic has high blood pressure, heart disease and a kidney stone and his son said he had suffered strokes which had left two scars on his brain, although he said his father recognized the family and knew he was in detention.
Judge Maja Kovacevic said the medical team had determined that he was fit for further proceedings. "Mladic's lawyer was delivered the extradition papers and he has until Monday to appeal," she said.
Mladic's lawyer Milos Saljic said he would appeal against the extradition Monday and insisted that Mladic could not be handed over to The Hague until his health was stable.
"He must be provided with adequate treatment before the extradition," he told reporters.
Rasim Ljajic, the Serbian minister in charge of the search for fugitive war criminals, said Mladic, often quoted declaring, "The Hague will not see me alive!" had not resisted arrest.
"Mladic had two loaded guns he did not use," Ljajic said.
"Mladic was dressed in several layers of clothes, he was hardly recognizable, he was not attracting attention. He looked pale as if he hadn't left confined spaces for a very long time," he said on Serbian television.
The deputy war crimes prosecutor said the court would continue to question the general, accused of orchestrating the brutal 43-month siege of the Bosnian capital and the massacre of 8,000 Muslim men and boys in the town of Srebrenica in 1995.
European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said she expected Mladic to be extradited to the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in The Hague within nine or 10 days.
Mladic, whose Bosnian Serb Army was armed and funded by the late Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic, is still seen as a hero by many Serbs. Milosevic died in 2006 while on trial in The Hague for war crimes.
Nationalists in Serbia, which was under international sanctions over the war in Bosnia and then bombed by NATO to stop atrocities in Kosovo in 1999, condemned the arrest as a blow to national interests.
Several dozen rallied in Belgrade to protest, clashing briefly with police who dispersed them from the main square and the authorities increased security in certain areas of the country, including around foreign embassies.
The arrest may have come too late to place Mladic jointly on trial alongside former Bosnian Serb political leader Radovan Karadzic, the Yugoslavia tribunal's prosecution office said, since doing so would delay the Karadzic trial.
Mladic was indicted in 1995 together with Karadzic, who was arrested in July 2008 and went on trial in October 2009.
"Dr. Karadzic is sorry for General Mladic's loss of freedom. He looks forward to working with him to bring out the truth about what happened in Bosnia," Peter Robinson, one of Karadzic's legal advisers, told Reuters by email.
Russia, which vehemently opposed the 1999 NATO bombing of Milosevic's Serbia and has accused the West in the past of bias against Bosnian Serbs, called for a fair trial for Mladic.
"We are counting on the upcoming judicial process to be fair and unprejudiced and not to be used with the aim of artificially dragging out the activity of the (ICTY)," the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
The tribunal is scheduled to close down in 2014.
Bosnian Muslim survivors expressed mixed feelings.
"This represents a small bit of justice for my heart, my soul and my pain," said Sabaheta Fejzic, 55, who lost her only son, her husband and many other male relatives in the massacre.
"It's long overdue but better than never. This is, in the end, a good move and it will work toward reconciliation," Bosnian Foreign Minister Sven Alkalaj said.
Former U.S. President Bill Clinton, whose administration brokered the deal that ended the Bosnian war, said: "The capture of Ratko Mladic enables the Bosnian people to close another chapter of one of the most terrifying conflicts of our time.
"As the military commander who systematically carried out brutal atrocities and mass murder, Mladic will finally be held accountable -- to Bosnia and the world," Clinton said.
Additional reporting by Adam Tanner in Rabat, Aaron Gray-Block in Amsterdam and David Brunnstrom in Brussels, Daria Sito-Sucic in Sarajevo and Steve Gutterman in Moscow; writing by Philippa Fletcher; editing by Ralph Boulton