THE HAGUE (AFP) - A UN court on Friday acquitted Croatian ex-generals Ante Gotovina and Mladen Markac of war crimes during the bloody 1990s breakup of Yugoslavia and ordered them freed, to shouts and tears of joy from their supporters across Europe.The appeals court “enters a verdict of acquittal” for Gotovina and Markac, judge Theodor Meron said at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in The Hague.The court’s packed public gallery erupted in cheers and clapping as the acquittal was read, with many people bursting out in tears and hugging Markac’s wife, Mirjana, who was at the hearing, as supporters outside uncorked champagne bottles.Gotovina and Markac, considered heros in Croatia, were last year jailed for 24 and 18 years respectively for the murder of Croatian Serbs during their country’s struggle for independence and the bloody, ethnically driven break-up of Yugoslavia.But the court found that the initial convictions had been based on the false premise that any artillery that landed on Serb-inhabited towns and was more than 200 metres (yards) from a military target was an attack on civilians. Judges also overturned the finding of “a joint criminal enterprise whose purpose was the permanent and forcible removal of Serb civilians from the Krajina region.”Gotovina, dressed in a light blue suit and dark blue tie, listened intently as judge Meron read the verdict, sometimes tapping his fingers on the table. As it became obvious he would be freed, he smiled and shook Markac’s hand.“We’re absolutely elated with the verdict,” Gotovina’s lawyer Gregory Kehoe told AFP. “I’ve been working on this case for six years. This is a great day.”“Mr Gotovina has gone back to the detention unit to pack his things - he has been there since December 2005 so you can imagine he has accumulated quite a few things,” Kehoe said.The generals will be driven to nearby Rotterdam airport in “Croatian government” vehicles, to be flown back in a Croatian plane to a hero’s welcome in Zagreb.“We expect him to be driven to Rotterdam airport in vehicles provided by the Croatian government later this afternoon,” Kehoe told AFP.“Right now, Mr Gotovina just wants to go home and spend some time with his wife, daughter and young son. Christmas is coming up and he might want to take a bit of holiday.”Outside the courthouse supporters uncorked champagne while singing Croatian nationalist songs.“It’s a great day for us,” said Zvonko Komsic, 53, as he hugged Markac’s wife while taking a swig of champagne.Candle-lit vigils were held the night before the ruling around Croatia, which will in July join the European Union having fulfilled the condition of handing over war crimes suspects to the court based in The Hague.People cheered and broke down in tears in Zagreb’s central square, where thousands watched the generals acquitted in a live broadcast.Hope had been riding high that the generals would be freed, with Gotovina supporter Edi Zelic saying he had champagne on ice in anticipation as he awaited the verdict outside the Hague courtroom.Croatian Roman Catholic bishop Vlado Kosic had urged the faithful to “raise their voice against injustice regarding the generals and Croatia” and to pray “for a fair verdict”.Gotovina, and Markac, both 57, were convicted last year on nine counts including murder and inhumane acts committed against Serbs.