Milosevic returns home to a muted, solemn welcome

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The body of Slobodan Milosevic was flown home to Serbia yesterday afternoon, welcomed by several hundred supporters and senior officials from his Socialist party at Belgrade airport.

The arrival of the remains of the former Yugoslav leader, which failed to draw the huge crowds predicted by his supporters, ended days of speculation over his place of burial. The funeral will be held on Saturday in his home town, Pozarevac, 50 miles east of Belgrade.

The controversy over his death continued meanwhile as a Russian medical expert agreed that Milosevic died of a heart attack, but said he would still be alive had he been given better care.

Milosevic's body, which was kept overnight at the morgue at Schipol airport on Tuesday, began its homeward journey at about midday in a grey van which carried the coffin to the plane less than an hour before the scheduled take-off.

Hours before the scheduled touchdown in Belgrade, small groups of Milosevic loyalists were scattered in the airport halls. They were wearing white badges with black photos of Milosevic on their coats and carrying red roses.

Several elderly women stood weeping, while men walked around grim-faced and nervous. Some shouted "Slobo, the Serbian son" as they saw the aircraft approach for landing, but the homecoming did not provoke any large-scale show of grief.

The low-key arrival of the former president's remains was in stark contrast to the reception Milosevic received in life when he returned to Belgrade in his days in power. The authorities provided neither solemn music nor many other sign of the return of the remains of a former leader.

There was silence as the simple black coffin, sealed and draped in plastic, made its way along the luggage conveyor belt of the regular flight of domestic carrier JAT at 4pm.

Ahead of it, some prams and luggage of other passengers were taken out from the cargo section.

The coffin remained on the belt for some time, as Mr Milosevic's legal adviser Zdenko Tomanovic completed formalities with airport officials.

Mr Milosevic's widow, Mira Markovic, has not arrived in Serbia yet. Nor has his son, Marko, who claimed the body in The Hague but flew from the Netherlands to Moscow.

The delegation made up of a dozen of Mr Milosevic's closest aides in the Socialist party approached and covered the coffin with the Serbian flag and placed a wreath of red roses.

Minutes later, they carried it to a blue VW hearse. Some cried as they touched the coffin when it was placed into the hearse and, as the hearse left the airport, sympathisers threw flowers.

The hearse transported the coffin to a mortuary in central Belgrade, where it was met by around 200 people, some calling out "Slobo rise!" or "They killed a hero and made a saint".

In The Hague, meanwhile, there was still much talk over the cause of Milosevic's death, despite an autopsy which concluded that he died of a heart attack.

Leo Bokeria, who led a team of Russian medical experts which reviewed the results of the autopsy, said he was "satisfied with what we saw" and reached the same conclusion. But he said that, had the patient been given adequate treatment "he would have still been alive today".

A Dutch specialist who conducted recent tests on Milosevic claimed he was deliberately worsening his condition by taking non- prescribed drugs to bolster his case for being allowed to visit Moscow for treatment. But Mr Bokeria said he saw "nothing showing signs of suicide".

Results of a toxicological examination may be released today and may finally remove the doubts.

Milosevic's body will be displayed in public today and on Friday in a tent at the front of the parliament building in Belgrade. His widow is believed to want burial at the family property in Pozarevac.