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Slain Serbian Prime Minister Djindjic Laid to Rest - 2003-03-15

Tens of thousands of mourners gathered in Belgrade Saturday for the funeral of Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic, who was assassinated Wednesday.

With prayers and traditional hymns, thousands of people gathered in and around Belgrade's St. Sava cathedral for the funeral of the late prime minister, who led Serbia on a painful road to reforms after a decade of Balkan bloodshed and suffering under former President Slobodan Milosevic.

Special police, armed with automatic rifles, were among the security forces deployed outside the cathedral, for what was described as the biggest funeral in the Serbian capital since communist leader Josip Broz Tito died in 1980.

Among those attending the funeral were the wife and two children of the 50-year-old Mr. Djindjic, as well as church leaders and government representatives from dozens of countries.

Mourners had braved winter temperatures to stand in line throughout the night in front of the nearby government building to sign a book of condolences.

The funeral service was performed by several key leaders of the Orthodox Church, often seen as a symbol of hope and inspiration during times of crisis in this mainly Orthodox republic.

Church leaders paid tribute to Mr. Djindjic, whom they saw as a voice of reconciliation. Serbian Orthodox Bishop Amfilohije said the reformist leader had begun a renewal of Serbia and "reached out a hand of reconciliation and peace."

After the service, Mr. Djindjic's body was carried in procession to Belgrade's New Cemetery, to be laid to rest with military honors in the Alley of the Great Men.

The funeral came amid concern among some church leaders and pro-democracy groups that as Mr. Djindjic went to his grave, Serbia's reform process may have been buried as well.

His assassination leaves Serbia with neither a prime minister nor elected president, a post left vacant after voter turnouts last year were too low to validate election of a new president.

Serbian media say the government is expected to name 42-year-old former Yugoslav Interior Minister Zoran Zivkovic as prime minister-designate. Analysts say such a move would signal the ruling coalition's determination to push on with the Western-backed economic and political reforms spearheaded by Mr. Djindjic.

Mr. Djindjic's assassination has been seen in some quarters as apparent retaliation for his tough stand on organized crime that is said to have had close ties to the Milosevic regime.