A large, framed colour 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 gates opened to let them in, shouting "Slobo! Slobo!"

 

The line formed again after the initial chaos, with people passing by the casket with their heads bowed, some sobbing and others making the sign of the cross and those waiting outside lighting candles in the snow.

 

Low turnout

 

"It is insane that such a Serb hero, the best of all, is gone"

Mirko Lekic, 
chef

The turnout was lower than the organisers' predictions of tens of thousands and nowhere near the huge crowds Milosevic once commanded in his heyday.

 

Milosevic's body returned home on Wednesday to a low-key welcome, with baggage handlers unceremoniously removing the former president's casket from a jetliner's cargo hold after unloading suitcases.

 

Some supporters who stood in 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 centre in the Netherlands near the war crimes tribunal that was trying him on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity.

 

He will be buried on Saturday at the family estate in the industrial town of Pozarevac, about 50km (30 miles) southeast of Belgrade.

 

Milosevic's followers, most of whom were elderly, sobbed quietly as they waited in line on 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.

 

Milosevic's widow

 

Milosevic's widow Markovic (L)
lives in Russia

Milorad Vucelic, the Socialist Party's deputy president who organised the viewing, said he expected Milosevic's widow, Mirjana Markovic, to arrive on 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 organise the return, funeral and burial.

 

However, senior officials of Serbia's conservative-led government helped organise Thursday's display, underscoring how the government has been involved behind the scenes to ensure Milosevic is honoured.

 

Museum of Revolution

 

The Socialists opted for the Museum of Revolution after they were refused to display Milosevic's coffin at other more prominent locations, including the downtown federal parliament building.

 

Milosevic's body will be taken on
Saturday for private burial

"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."

 

Questions and accusations have swirled 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 on Saturday to Pozarevac for private burial beneath his favourite linden tree, his party comrades said.

 

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.

 

There are fears that nationalists could use the funeral to try to win back power. In pressing for a Belgrade ceremony, the Socialists threatened to topple the minority government if Milosevic were to be denied a funeral in Serbia.