Slobodan Milosevic's coffin was on display for a second day Friday as hundreds of his supporters continued to pay respects to their leader who died while on trial for genocide and war crimes. Members of Milosevic's Socialist Party who were organizing the funeral and burial arrangements after authorities officially refused a state funeral for the ex-president kept a vigil overnight by his coffin, draped in a Serbian flag and covered with a wreath of red roses, the party's symbol.
On Thursday, Milosevic's body was brought from a morgue to a museum dedicated to the late communist dictator Josip Broz Tito in Belgrade 's plush Dedinje district. Thousands of die-hard supporters converged through the day, to pass by the casket in front of which a large, framed color photograph of Milosevic was placed. Milosevic's Socialist associates took turns standing next to it in groups of six as an honor guard.
The turnout was still lower than organizers' predictions of tens of thousands, and nowhere near the huge crowds Milosevic once commanded in his heyday. The venue for the coffin's display was picket after the Socialists were refused to display it at more prominent places, including the downtown parliament building. But the government tacitly allowed the Museum of Revolution , a decaying building holding gifts Tito received from foreign statesmen during his iron-fisted rule of ex-Yugoslavia from World War II until he died in 1980, be used instead.
The move drew criticism from pro-Western opposition and pro-democracy groups who criticized Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica's government of working behind the scenes to ensure Milosevic was honored. Ironically, the museum is just a few hundred meters (yards) from the villa where Milosevic was arrested on April 1, 2001 , two months before his handover to the U.N. war crimes tribunal in The Hague , Netherlands .
Milosevic died last weekend at a detention center near the tribunal, which was trying him on 66 counts of war crimes, including genocide the first head of state to be extradited by his country for trial by the U.N. court. Flown home on Wednesday, he is to be buried Saturday at a family estate in his hometown of Pozarevac, about 50 kilometers (30 miles) southeast of Belgrade . Workers there were digging the grave beneath Milosevic's favorite linden tree Thursday.
The Socialists reiterated Friday expectations Milosevic's widow, Mirjana Markovic, would arrive from Moscow , for the burial. Markovic, who lives in self-imposed exile in Russia , has indicated she would not come until all charges against her for alleged abuse of power during Milosevic's reign were dropped.
Questions and accusations have swirled this week about Milosevic's death. His son, Marko, says he was poisoned; the tribunal says he had a heart attack, but toxicology results have not been announced; and Russia says Milosevic was not properly treated. On Thursday, the U.N. tribunal ordered the release of confidential trial records to investigators probing the circumstances of his death.
At The Hague , the U.N. war crimes tribunal officials called for a press conference at noon Friday, expected to reveal latest findings in a probe on the cause of Milosevic's death. The Socialists, ousted from power along with Milosevic in 2000, are hoping to make political gains from their leader's death. Party official Zoran Andjelkovic demanded that Saturday be proclaimed a national day of mourning in Serbia, but only local authorities in Pozarevac controlled by the Socialists have complied.
But a Serbian rights group, the Humanitarian Law Center , warned Thursday the "glorification of Milosevic after his death constitutes a shameful denial of his role" in the republic's recent past. "Milosevic damaged Serbia more than anyone else with a series of wars," it said. "His rule was a time of total destruction of the Serbian society, its ostracism from the rest of the world and its moral and social demise", reports the AP.
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