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Thousands Gather for Former Bosnian President Izetbegovic's Funeral - 2003-10-22


Tens of thousands of people attended the funeral Wednesday of the former president of Bosnia-Herzegovina. Alija Izetbegovic died Sunday at age 78. News of an investigation into his past by the United Nations War Crimes Tribunal somewhat overshadowed the ceremony.

Bosnia-Herzegovina's state-run radio interrupted its regular programming Wednesday to broadcast traditional funeral music, as people lined the rain-soaked streets of Sarajevo to say farewell to the man many consider the father of their young nation.

Alija Izetbegovic, who died Sunday from chronic heart disease and a fall at his home, was chairman of the country's presidency for most of the turbulent 1990s, when he fought for Bosnia's independence from federal Yugoslavia.

His body was laid to rest, covered in the national flag.

Turkish President Suleyman Demirel and former Slovenian President Milan Kucan were among representatives from 80 foreign delegations, attending the emotionally charged ceremony.

Catholic and Muslim leaders had urged citizens of all religions and ethnic backgrounds to pray for Mr. Izetbegovic. The official National Day of Mourning was observed in Bosnia's Muslim-Croat entity, but ignored in its Serbian-controlled territory.

The ceremony was somewhat overshadowed by an announcement from the United Nations War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague that the late president had been under investigation for possible involvement in atrocities during the war.

In a statement to reporters only hours before the funeral began, U.N. spokeswoman Florence Hartmann said Mr. Izetbegovic "was one of the suspects who was under investigation" but that his death means that "all investigations are stopped."

As many as a quarter million people were killed in the Yugoslav wars - Europe's bloodiest conflicts since World War II.

Mr. Izetbegovic reluctantly signed the Dayton Peace Accords that ended the Bosnian war. The agreement ensured the establishment of Bosnia-Herzegovina as an independent country, but in his view it also rewarded ethnic cleansing by Serb forces, which killed Muslims in order to take over their territory.

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