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Milosevic coffin goes on public view in Belgrade

Written by: Staff
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BELGRADE, Mar 16: A closed coffin bearing the body of former Serbian strongman Slobodan Milosevic was put on view in Belgrade today and hundreds of mainly elderly loyalists queued up to pay their emotional last respects.

Officials of Milosevic's Socialist Party carried the wooden casket into a bare white room of the Museum of the Revolution on a snow-covered ridge. They draped it with the Serbian flag and placed a large wreath of roses upon it.

There were chaotic scenes in the ensuing crush to view the bier, in the faded concrete building from the Tito era of Yugoslavia's heyday. Mourners kissed a portrait of a youthful Milosevic as they filed by, some women breaking down in tears.

''They wouldn't let him be laid out in parliament. They are mean and evil. He is the hero of the Serb people,'' sobbed one elderly woman.

A pensioner carrying a pink carnation said Milosevic was ''the only leader who was for Serbia''. Another said: ''Sloba is not dead. Sloba will never die for the Serb people.'' The coffin will remain on public view until a private weekend burial under a lime tree in the grounds of Milosevic's provincial home in Pozarevac -- a far cry from the state funeral sought by his dwindling band of loyalists.

''It is a scandal by the pro-imperialist leadership that he should be buried in Pozarevac and not in the best place in Serbia. They are the same people who sent him to the house of death,'' said a loyalist called Dragica.

NO OFFICIAL GRIEF

The casket arrived from Amsterdam without fanfare aboard a scheduled Yugoslav flight yesterday, almost five years after Milosevic was extradited by the reformists who toppled him.

The Balkan wars he presided over in the 1990s led him finally to The Hague, where he died of a heart attack a few months before a verdict was due in his war crimes trial. Questions persist over exactly what caused his heart to fail. Socialist Party officials said Milosevic's widow Mira Markovic would come from Moscow to attend the funeral. She faces charges of corruption in Serbia during the decade in which her influence made her virtually an equal partner of her husband.

No one from Serbia's Western-leaning government was at the airport as the coffin was draped in the Serbian flag by officials from his Socialist Party, then covered with red roses.

A few hundred mourners outside the airport placed wreaths on the hearse as it drove past. Crowds lined highway overpasses for a glimpse of the convoy.

The respected Belgrade daily Politika quoted pollsters as saying people's emotional reaction might bolster Milosevic's fading party and the ultranationalists, but only briefly.

''The squabble to claim Milosevic's political heritage has begun ... those on the left as well as those on the extreme right realised his death is a unique opportunity,'' it said.

The once-dominant Socialists have invited supporters to view the casket on Saturday outside the old federal parliament in the heart of the city -- an area which overflowed with anti-Milosevic protesters in 2000 shouting: ''He's finished.'' The Museum of the Revolution is in the suburb where his official residence was bombed by NATO during its 1999 campaign to force Serbian troops out of the breakaway province of Kosovo.

In Vienna on Friday there will be a round of U.N.-backed talks on the province's future, a process widely expected to give Kosovo the independence Milosevic tried to prevent.

Loyalists brought flowers and candles to the gates of the Milosevic compound in Pozarevac, his sleepy hometown 80 km (50 miles) east of Belgrade where the Milosevic clan once ran businesses, including a bakery, disco and a theme park.

The Socialists, who once dominated political life in Serbia, now have only 22 seats out of 250 in parliament.

They and the ultranationalist Radical Party initially sought a state funeral for Milosevic, then something akin to one, hoping to create a martyr to their nationalist cause. A threat to shame the government by burying him in Russia failed.

REUTERS

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