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Tens of Thousands Mourn Milosevic in Belgrade

Slobodan Milosevic was laid to rest Saturday beneath a tree at the family estate in his hometown, a quiet end for a man blamed for ethnic wars that killed 250,000 people in one of the turbulent Balkans' bloodiest chapters.

The late Serbian leader's burial, a week after his death while on U.N. trial charged with genocide and crimes against humanity, followed an emotional farewell in Belgrade that drew at least 80,000 Serb nationalists and another in his birthplace attended by up to 20,000 admirers.

As a cold drizzle fell, his flag-draped coffin was lowered into a double grave with a place for his widow, Mirjana Markovic, who reportedly wants to join him when she dies.

The grave, marked with a simple marble slab inscribed with both of their names in Cyrillic letters and the dates 1941-2006, was dug beneath a favorite linden tree where the couple first kissed as high school sweethearts.

No immediate members of Milosevic's family attended.

But in a letter read at graveside, Markovic, who lives in self-imposed exile in Moscow because she faces Serbian charges of abuse of power during her husband's 13-year reign, said: "You lost your life while fighting for noble causes. You were killed by villains. But I know you will live forever for all who wish to live like human beings."

A letter from the couple's son, Marko Milosevic, expressed hope that the late president's death would "sober up the humiliated Serb people."

"To die for one's country means to live forever," his letter said.

No priest officiated at the interment because Milosevic was an avowed atheist.

Among the supporters in Pozarevac were several indicted war crimes suspects on temporary leave from the U.N. tribunal in The Hague, Netherlands. One, retired Gen. Dragoljub Ojdanic, wore his military uniform.

After the burial, residents of the gritty industrial town 30 miles south of the capital waited in a long line to view the grave, which was framed by a crimson carpet and brass stands holding red velvet ropes.

People had lined the town's main street to welcome the arrival of Milosevic's remains, cheering and waving as a brass band played a funeral march. Many threw red roses, the symbol of the Socialist Party.

Earlier in Belgrade, Milosevic supporters packed a square in front of the federal parliament to pay their respects. Many were bused in by his Socialist Party from Serb areas in Bosnia, Croatia and Kosovo, where Milosevic started wars during the splintering of Yugoslavia in the 1990s.

People wept and chanted "Slobo! Slobo!" at the sight of the flag-draped coffin on a bier atop a red-carpeted stage. Some clutched photographs of Milosevic or the U.N. court's two most-wanted fugitives: Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic and his wartime military chief, Gen. Ratko Mladic.

Serbian authorities refused to approve an official ceremony, but Saturday's farewell — organized by the Socialists and technically private — had some of the trappings of a state funeral.

Still, though larger than many had expected, the crowd in Belgrade was far smaller than the 500,000 who turned out for the 2003 funeral of assassinated Serbian premier Zoran Djindjic, who had turned Milosevic over to the U.N. tribunal two years earlier.

Milosevic died March 11 in his room at a U.N. detention center near the tribunal, which was trying him on 66 counts of war crimes, including genocide. He was the first head of state to be extradited by his country for trial by a U.N. court.

Ultranationalist leaders and at least five retired Yugoslav generals wearing dress uniforms stood by the stage in Belgrade.

"We are bidding farewell to the best one among us, fully conscious of his greatness," said Milorad Vucelic, Socialist Party deputy president.

Bosko Nikolic, 42, holding a huge poster of Milosevic, said: "I came to say goodbye to the greatest son of Serbia."

Ramsey Clark, a former U.S. attorney general and longtime Milosevic supporter who is now on Saddam Hussein's defense team, drew cheers by telling the crowd: "History will prove that Slobodan Milosevic was right."

But some drivers passing by the square honked car horns and made obscene gestures at the Milosevic supporters, underscoring the disgust many Serbs feel toward the late autocratic leader.

"All of Belgrade's squares would be too small for all the victims of Milosevic and his rule," said Foreign Minister Vuk Draskovic, who was twice targeted for assassination by the Milosevic regime. "A murderer and his crimes were glorified today."

Later Saturday, about 2,000 anti-Milosevic activists gathered at another central Belgrade square for an impromptu rally.

The activists, mostly young people, waved red balloons, whistled, danced and shouted: "He is gone!" They also burned Milosevic's picture and scuffled briefly with a dozen Karadzic supporters who tried to disrupt the gathering.