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Last Updated: Thursday, 16 March 2006, 01:13 GMT
'No fanfare' for Milosevic return
By Nick Thorpe
BBC News, Belgrade

Officials stand as the coffin is placed in the hearse
Socialist Party officials received Mr Milosevic's coffin
The small cluster of Socialist Party officials, on the tarmac at Belgrade airport to welcome their leader home were close to tears.

"I feel shaken. And quite awful," said Milorad Vucelic, deputy president of the party and a close friend of Slobodan Milosevic. "This is very hard for me."

As head of Serbian state television in the early 1990s, including the period of the Bosnian war, they travelled together many times.

At 1545 local time (1445 GMT) the white Yugoslav airlines scheduled flight from Schiphol airport in Amsterdam landed, a few minutes behind schedule.

No fanfare

The passengers left the plane, then a black coffin was slowly lowered from the luggage chute of the plane.

The Socialist party officials approached it and draped a tricolour, red, white and blue Serbian flag over it, and placed a large wreath on the lid.

We came here to meet our wonderful president, who ruled us in the best way possible

The coffin was then placed in the back of a dark blue hearse, and driven slowly towards the exit, followed by the party officials.

Only the flag, and the flowers, mostly red carnations, added any colour to the occasion. The airport was deep in snow. The officials wore long black coats.

There was no fanfare, no music, no guard of honour for the man who ruled this country for 13 years, from 1987 to 2000. State officials, who have rejected Socialist requests for a state funeral, were conspicuous for their absence.

Only a few hundred supporters waited outside the airport gates, barely outnumbering the journalists.

'Wonderful president'

Mostly elderly women, they waved pictures of their hero. Small square photographs of him lay on the ground like confetti. Some chanted his name, others wept openly. Several refused to talk to foreign journalists.

Women touch the hearse carrying Mr Milosevic's coffin
Mourners, mostly women, were keen to touch the hearse
"You bombed us," shouted one woman, "and then you killed our president."

This was a reference to the Nato air-strikes in the spring of 1999, and the conviction of many supporters of Mr Milosevic that he was killed by The Hague War Crimes Tribunal - either indirectly, by being denied proper medical care, or directly poisoned.

But some were willing to speak. "We came here to meet our wonderful president, who ruled us in the best way possible," said a woman who gave her name only as Mitza.

"When he was in power, I visited many foreign countries. Now I can't even afford the fare to Resnik," she said. Resnik is a suburb of Belgrade. "We are so poor we have to choose between bread and medicines."

"He was the smartest man in the world," added her friend, Vera Georgevich. "Those who have taken over the country are thieves, they are immature and mentally ill."

"They took the money from the Americans and sold their souls," said another woman.

All said they plan to attend the funeral.

From the airport, the hearse took the body to the morgue of the St Sava hospital, opposite the main railway station in Belgrade.

From noon on Thursday, it is expected to be placed in a museum in Belgrade for people to come and pay their respects.

On Saturday afternoon, Slobodan Milosevic is due to be laid to rest in his home town of Pozarevac, in eastern Serbia.


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