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Body of Milosevic Arrives in Belgrade, Serbia

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

The body of Slobodan Milosevic arrived in Belgrade today, five years after the former Serb president was sent to The Hague to be tried for war crimes. He died of a heart attack in his prison cell in the Netherlands on Saturday. Serbia's democratic government denied a state funeral to the man who's known as The Butcher of the Balkans. NPR's Sylvia Poggioli reports from Belgrade.

SYLVIA POGGIOLI reporting:

There was a large stakeout of journalists on the airport tarmac as the flight from Amsterdam landed. After all the passenger luggage had been unloaded, a coffin wrapped in black plastic came down the conveyor belt. A group of eight officials of Milosevic's Socialist party walked to the plane and placed a red, blue and white Serbian flag and a wreath of red roses on the coffin, which was then transferred to a hearse.

(Soundbite of mourners)

A few hundred mourners lined the road as the vehicle drove slowly away. Mainly elderly, they held photographs of Milosevic. Some wiped away tears. Others feebly chanted their hero's name.

(Soundbite of mourners)

The few young people present wore buttons of the ultranationalist Radical party, whose leader, Vojislav Seselj, is himself awaiting trial at the International War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague. Foreign journalists were not welcome, and Erica Markovic(ph), one of the mourners, vented her anger at the government.

(Soundbite of angry mourners)

Ms. ERICA MAROKOVIC (Milosevic mourner):(Through Translator) You're writing whatever you want to write and not asking the people what they really think about this new government. They're not Democrats. They're Fascists and thieves.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (Milosevic's mourner): I lost two husbands and a brother, but I did not cry as much as I'm crying today.

POGGIOLI: Since Milosevic died on Saturday, the Serbian government, which depends on the Socialist votes in Parliament, has kept a low public profile. Officials fear that, in death, Milosevic could be made into a martyr of the cause of Serbian nationalism. The government resisted the Socialist demands for a state funeral and burial in the cemetery reserved for national heroes. But officials can't prevent the coffin from being displayed for two days, probably near the square where, in October 2000, tens of thousands of peaceful anti-Milosevic protestors brought an end to his rule.

Socialist party Vice President, Miodrag Perisic, has vowed to turn this into a massive event.

MIODRAG PERISIC (Vice President of Serbia): (Through Translator) Slobodan Milosevic belonged to this nation, and this nation will demonstrate this with its presence at the funeral and with its respect. All of those who have deprived him of the state honors he is entitled to will bring shame upon themselves.

POGGIOLI: On Saturday, Milosevic's remains will be laid to rest in his hometown of Pozarevac, 40 miles south of Belgrade. Serb media report he will be buried in the backyard of the family home, under a tree he and his wife used to sit. His son, Marko, and his widow, Mira Markovic, are expected to come from Moscow after a Belgrade court lifted an arrest warrant against her.

Sylvia Poggioli, NPR News, Belgrade. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Sylvia Poggioli is senior European correspondent for NPR's International Desk covering political, economic, and cultural news in Italy, the Vatican, Western Europe, and the Balkans. Poggioli's on-air reporting and analysis have encompassed the fall of communism in Eastern Europe, the turbulent civil war in the former Yugoslavia, and how immigration has transformed European societies.
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