Milosevic family denounces funeral as 'political rally'


Sarajevo siege
People run for cover as they pass an area of heavy Serb sniper fire in the besieged Bosnian capital of Sarajevo in a March 8, 1993 file photo. At least 11,000 died during the siege

Balkan Butcher Buried
Headline in Bosnian Newspaper, Dnevni Avaz.

Socialist officials and other prominent supporters made a succession of fiery speeches at a gathering of tens of thousands of people in Belgrade yesterday before Milosevic's coffin was taken to the provincial town of Pozarevac for burial.

Milosevic's son was quoted in the Belgrade daily Pressas saying the funeral was "terrible" and had been turned into a political rally but he later denied making the comments, although he admitted he had spoken to a reporter from the paper.

Some Serbian media saw the funeral of the man known as the "Butcher of the Balkans" as the final act of an era marked by the Balkan wars of the 1990s in which at least 150,000 people were killed and millions forced from their homes.

Others saw it as a sign that Milosevic, reviled in the West and neighbouring states as the leader most responsible for those wars, still had a substantial following even after his death.

None of Milosevic's close relatives attended the gathering, or his burial in the yard of the family's home in Pozarevac.

His daughter Marija, 40, remained in the neighbouring republic of Montenegro, upset that he was not being buried in his ancestral village there or given a church funeral.

"The saddest thing is that I could have prevented all those scandalous arrangements for the funeral, all that speechifying and people chanting, if only they'd listened to me," she told Reuters in a telephone interview.

Milosevic's playboy son Marko and wife Mira, his lifelong partner in power, stayed in self-imposed exile in Russia.

They feared arrest by the pro-Western authorities who now run Serbia or attacks by Serbs disgusted at their reign as the country's first family.

Milosevic, who was deposed by a mass uprising in October 2000, died of heart failure in his cell at the UN war crimes tribunal just over a week ago. He was indicted on 66 counts including charges of genocide and crimes against humanity.

Belgrade newspaper Vecernje Novostiheadlined its front-page story on his burial "Funeral of an Epoch".

Another tabloid, Kurir, also described the funeral as "The End of an Era" but added that the mourners had "showed that their leader, even dead, will continue shaping the political map of Serbia for a long time".

In Sarajevo, where the wartime siege by Serb forces killed more than 10,000, newspapers viewed the event with revulsion.

"Cetniks (Serb nationalists) and neo-communists honoured criminal," ran the headline in Dnevni Avaz, Bosnia's best-selling newspaper, read mainly by Bosnian Muslims.

"Balkan Butcher Buried," it added.

Milosevic left Serbia divided between a sizeable minority who see him as a hero who defended Serb interests and a majority who broadly support the current government's pro-Western course.

His death has divided even his own family. Marija Milosevic said she was appalled her father had been buried in a garden - where her mother and father courted - instead of a cemetery.

She said she had not been consulted about the funeral plans which were made by her mother.

"I wanted a church service and it was planned," she said. "But my mother and brother were against a service."

"His political allies have misused his funeral for political purposes and their speeches," she added.

"And who were all those people around his grave?" she asked. "I even saw people who were declared enemies of my father."