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Milosevic Laid To Rest

Slobodan Milosevic, who was found dead of a heart attack in his prison cell on March 11, will be buried near Belgrade today. Supporters are gathering to pay their respects to a man whom they call a Serbian nationalist hero but who is better known to the rest of the world as a war criminal.

PRAGUE, March 18, 2006 (RFE/RL) – Milosevic’s supporters come from many parts of what he regarded as the Serbian homeland.

To him that meant not just Serbia and Montengero, including the disputed province of Kosovo, but also Serbian-populated areas of the neighboring states of Croatia and Bosnia.

His support for Serbian nationalists in these enclaves played a major role in the four wars in the Balkans that he helped to unleash. Hundreds of thousands of people died as a result and millions more were made homeless by ethnic cleansing.

Supporters Remain Adamant

But for some Serbian nationalists, Milosevic remains a hero. Milos Lazarevic, in Pale -- the capital of Bosnia’s Serbian entity during the war there -- voiced his support for Milosevic.

"I think that he fought bravely for Serb people and Serbia as whole," Lazarevic said. "That's why they had indeed killed him, psychologically and physically."

Lazarevic spoke as he boarded a bus in Pale this morning for the drive to Milosevic’s hometown of Pozarevac for the funeral today.

The burial, on the grounds of Milosevic’s family home, is scheduled for 4 p.m. local time.

Milosevic’s party remains strong in Serbia and has sought to give him all the honors of a former head of state, including a state funeral.

Today, thousands of people gathered to view his body displayed on a podium outside the federal parliament building in Belgrade.

The farewell ceremony in the capital – organized by Milosevic’s Socialist Party of Serbia -- includes a giant screen showing a portrait of the former Yugoslav president.

The Serbian government – dominated by pro-Western democrats who ousted Milosevic in 2000 – has refused to allow Milosevic anything more than a private funeral today.

Party Hopes For Popular Send-Off

But Milosevic’s supporters hope huge turnouts today in Belgrade and at the burial site will provide the highly public sendoff they want to give him.

Milorad Vucelic, vice president of the Socialist Party of Serbia, told Reuters on March 17 in Pozarevac that the party expects a large turnout.

"We are expecting tens of thousands of people in Pozarevac," Vucelic said. "The largest number of 300,000 people will surely be in Belgrade, but a lot of them will come to Pozarevac after they see him off in Belgrade."

Opponents of Milosevic say such expectations for a turnout are wildly exaggerated. They call Milosevic a criminal who should be buried without ceremony.

Opponents Publish Condemnation

One group published a "letter" to Milosevic on March 17 to remind the country of his bleak legacy.

“Thank you for the deceit and theft, for every drop of blood shed by thousands, for the fear and uncertainty, for the failed lives and generations, the unfulfilled dreams, for the horrors and wars you waged in our name, without asking us, for all the burdens you've placed on our shoulders," the statement said.

Milosevic's widow and son are not expected to attend the funeral. Mirjana Markovic would have faced possible arrest on fraud charges if she entered Serbia.

"Because of controversial statements by the authorities in Serbia regarding security of the family of Slobodan Milosevic during the funeral and especially because of threats and blackmails addressed to Mira Markovic, the family was prevented from coming to the funeral and will not be present at the funeral," Vucelic told Milosevic supporters in Belgrade today.

(RFE/RL 20.iii.06)

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