Tens of thousands of Serbs gave their former leader, Slobodan Milosevic, a hero's farewell Saturday and pronounced him a victim of the U.N. war crimes tribunal, in whose custody he died a week ago.
About 15,000 people gathered for his burial in Pozarevac, his home town, and another 50,000 attended a commemoration in Belgrade, the capital. The mourners praised Milosevic, who oversaw Serbia's role in the bloodiest conflict in Europe since World War II, as a defender of the nation and man of peace and love.
Milosevic was buried at a family residence in this depressed, industrial city about 35 miles southeast of Belgrade. The Serbian government had denied him a state funeral, and only in Pozarevac, where the Socialist Party he founded controls city hall, did the Serbian flag fly at half-staff.
The coffin of the former Serbian leader, who died last weekend while on UN trial for some of Europe's worst atrocities since World War II, was being displayed outside city hall in the gritty industrial town before interment in the backyard of the family estate.
As a brass band played a funeral march, up to 15,000 admirers lined the main street into town, cheering as the hearse passed slowly and throwing red roses, the symbol of Milosevic's Socialist Party.
Milosevic was to be buried beneath a linden tree where he first kissed his wife, Mirjana Markovic, in a double grave. Markovic reportedly has said she wants to be buried with him when she dies.
Private BK television showed the empty grave in the middle of a square of crimson carpet framed by brass stands holding red velvet ropes.
Many wept uncontrollably and chanted "Slobo! Slobo!" at the sight of the flag-draped coffin on a bier atop a red-carpeted stage. Some clutched photographs of Milosevic or the UN tribunal's two most-wanted fugitives: Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic and his wartime military chief, General Ratko Mladic.
Later in the afternoon, the faithful jumped back in their coaches to follow the coffin down the 50-mile route to Pozarevac, the drab and unremarkable industrial town where Milosevic was born 65 years ago.
Main streets leading to the town's Freedom Square were packed with people as a brass band played the silver hearse down the road to a podium where local apparatchiks made more speeches.
By then though, the crowd had dwindled to the point where all present were able to get a close look at the hearse.
Night was falling as the coffin was finally lowered into the ready-built mausoleum. Guests, including several children dressed in paramilitary uniforms, then queued up to kiss the grave. No priest officiated.
Yet even as Milosevic's body was being lowered into the ground, it was setting the scene for further bitter argument. While many locals are proud to have the body lying there, others fear it will now become a shrine for Milosevic supporters.
A bitter obituary, hidden among otherwise glowing tributes, appeared in Serbia's oldest newspaper on Friday thanking former Yugoslav leader Slobodan Milosevic for the blood, horrors and ruined lives of his regime.
"Thank you for your cheating and theft, for every drop of blood thousands spilled because of you, for the fear and uncertainty, for failed lives and generations, dreams that never came true, for the horrors and wars you led on our behalf without asking us, for the entire burden you placed on our backs," the notice read.
"We remember tanks on the streets of Belgrade and blood on its pavements. We remember Vukovar, we remember Dubrovnik, we remember Krin and Krajina, we remember Sarajevo, we remember Srebrenica, we remember the bombing campaign, we remember Kosovo, and we will have more yet to remember and dream of.
"We remember those killed, wounded, those who were made to suffer, and refugees. We remember our ruined lives."
It was signed off by "the citizens of Serbia who will remember" and listed six names.
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