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Former Bosnian President Izetbegovic Dies - 2003-10-19

Former Bosnian President Alija Izetbegovic, who led his country through Europe's bloodiest conflict since World War II, has died. Hospital officials say he died of complications that developed after a fall in his home. He was 78 years old.

Mr. Izetbegovic leaves behind a nation where many referred to him as "grandpa" for his father figure role. He led Bosnia-Herzegovina for 10 years, through the country's war for independence from Yugoslavia from 1992 through 1995.

More than 200,000 people died in what became known as Europe's bloodiest conflict since World War II. More than two million refugees fled their homes or were evicted in ethnic purges.

In 1995, Mr. Izetbegovic and the presidents of Croatia and Serbia agreed to sign the Dayton Peace Accord, drafted under U.S. auspices after weeks of negotiations.

Under the agreement, Bosnia was divided into a Serb republic and a Muslim-Croat federation, with a three-person presidency comprising representatives from each of the groups.

Mr. Izetbegovic said at that time that this "may be not a just peace," as in his view it rewarded ethnic cleansing, the forcible removal of ethnic groups from one area to another. But he added the agreement was "more just than the continuation of war."

That decision and his low-key style as a member of Bosnia's presidency initially won him support from Western powers and Muslim nations. However, even former allies later criticized him in suggesting his courting of Islamic countries during the Bosnian war allowed Muslim radicals to gain a hold there.

Mr. Izetbegovic was twice elected to the post-war presidency. He stepped down in 2000. He was the last of the three leaders who signed the Dayton accords to leave office. Croatian President Franjo Tudjman died in office in 1999. Slobodan Milosevic, the Serbian and then Yugoslav president, was ousted in 2000, and is now standing trial at the U.N. tribunal in The Hague on war crimes charges.

Mr. Izetbegovic was a lawyer by profession. He was sentenced twice for his political views, and spent nearly nine years in prison in communist Yugoslavia. He was sentenced the second time, in 1983, for writing an "Islamic Declaration."

Mr. Izetbegovic suffered health problems. He was fitted with a pacemaker last year and had suffered two heart attacks in the past.