Slobodan Milosevic's flag-draped coffin was placed on public display Thursday for hundreds of tearful supporters paying their last respects to the late Serbian leader who died while being tried for war crimes.
A large, framed color photograph of Milosevic was placed in front of the closed casket in a red-carpeted room inside Belgrade's Museum of Revolution, a gallery once devoted to former Yugoslav dictator Josip Broz Tito.
Dozens of mourners stormed into the museum once its gate opened to let them in, shouting "Slobo! Slobo!"
The line quickly formed again after the initial chaos, with people passing by the casket with their heads bowed, some sobbing, others making the sign of the cross, and those waiting outside lit candles in the snow.
Milosevic's body returned home Wednesday to a low-key welcome, with baggage handlers unceremoniously removing the former president's casket from a jetliner's cargo hold after unloading a slew of suitcases.
But some die-hard supporters who stood in the cold and snow flurries greeted his coffin with tears, kisses and wailing, reflecting the divisive emotions that Milosevic can still muster, even in death.
Milosevic died last weekend at a UN detention center in the Netherlands near the war crimes tribunal that was trying him on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity.
He will be buried Saturday on the grounds of the family estate in the industrial town of Pozarevac, about 50 kilometers (30 miles) southeast of Belgrade.
Milosevic's followers, most of whom were elderly, sobbed quietly as they waited in line Thursday to view the coffin. Many clutched red roses - the symbol of Milosevic's Socialist Party.
Milivoje Zivkovic, 81, limped his way up to the museum with a cane to pay tribute to "the man who loved his country more than any other Serb."
"It is insane that such a Serb hero, the best of all, is gone," said Mirko Lekic, 62, a chef who said he "cried like a baby" when Milosevic's death was announced.
Milorad Vucelic, the Socialist Party deputy president who organized Thursday's viewing, said he expected Milosevic's widow, Mirjana Markovic, to arrive Friday from Moscow to mourn her late husband.
Markovic, who lives in Russia in self-imposed exile, has indicated she would not come until all charges against her for alleged abuse of power during Milosevic's reign were dropped.
Belgrade authorities, run by the opposition pro-Western Democratic Party, refused to hold a state ceremony, leaving it to Milosevic's family and his Socialist allies to organize the return, funeral and burial.
However, senior officials of Serbia's conservative-led government helped organize Thursday's display, underscoring how the government has been involved behind the scenes to ensure Milosevic is honored.
After they were refused to display Milosevic's coffin at several other more prominent locations, including the downtown federal parliament building, the Socialists opted for the Museum of Revolution.
The decaying building in Belgrade's plush Dedinje district used to hold numerous gifts Tito received from foreign statesmen during his iron-fisted rule of ex-Yugoslavia from World War II until he died in 1981. It has been closed for years because of a lack of visitors.
The museum is perched on a snow-covered hill just a few hundred meters (yards) from Tito's grave and from Milosevic's residence, where he was arrested April 1, 2001, before his extradition to The Hague tribunal two months later.
"The people are paying their respects to their leader in a dignified manner," Vucelic said. "This venue was chosen out of necessity, but it turned out to be the right place."
But museum director Ljijljana Cetinic said she did not approve the display of Milosevic's coffin there, which she said was "turning the museum into a funeral parlor."
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.
Milosevic's body will be taken Saturday to Pozarevac for private burial beneath his favorite linden tree, his party comrades said. The city council, dominated by Milosevic allies, voted unanimously Thursday to allow the unusual burial arrangements.
The Socialists, ousted from power along with Milosevic in 2000, are hoping to make political gains from their leader's death.
Socialist Party official Zoran Andjelkovic demanded that Saturday be proclaimed a day of mourning in Serbia "because this is a burial by the people, not a party."
There are fears that nationalists could use the funeral to try win back power. In pressing for a Belgrade ceremony, the Socialists threatened to topple the minority government if Milosevic were denied a funeral in Serbia.
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