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Last Updated: Thursday, 26 January 2006, 15:28 GMT
Huge crowds attend Rugova funeral
Ibrahim Rugova was buried in the martyrs' cemetery
International dignitaries were among the hundreds of thousands of people who attended the burial of Kosovo's President Ibrahim Rugova.

Up to half a million people reportedly turned out for the coffin's procession through the streets of the province's capital, Pristina.

Mr Rugova died on Saturday from lung cancer at the age of 61.

Kosovo, a Serbian province administered by the UN, angered Serbia by not inviting it to the ceremony.

Serbian President Boris Tadic said it was a missed chance to improve relations between the two sides.

Rugova has been the defining element of politics in Kosovo for so long that it is hard for us to imagine Kosovo, and Kosovan politics, without him
Soren Jessen-Petersen
Head of UN mission administering Kosovo

Mr Rugova spearheaded a non-violent campaign by Kosovo's ethnic Albanian majority to end Serbian rule. Despite being eclipsed by Kosovan guerrillas in the late 1990s, he remained a figurehead for ethnic Albanians.

Regional leaders, including the Albanian president and prime minister, Alfred Moisiu and Sali Berisha, and the European Union's foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, joined the thousands of ethnic Albanians who had been paying tributes at the parliament building since Sunday.

'Defining element'

On Thursday, followed solemnly by the crowds, the coffin was carried to a hall where the dignitaries attended a ceremony and paid tribute to Mr Rugova.

"You fulfilled your dream, you laid the foundation for Kosovo to become free and independent state," said Nexhat Daci, the head of the province's parliament and Kosovo's acting president.

Kosovo President Ibrahim Rugova
Rugova died shortly before crucial independence talks

The European Union's foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, said: "It is a cruel irony of history that he left at the moment he was most needed, the very moment he was expected to provide leadership in helping to settle the future status of Kosovo."

Kosovo's UN administrator Soren Jessen-Petersen said the president had left a void behind him, but he had "also left a vision to guide Kosovo forward".

Following the non-religious ceremony, the coffin was interned in a marble tomb in the martyrs' memorial complex in the Velanija district of Pristina, where the president had lived.

Talks on the future status of Kosovo were scheduled to begin this week but have been postponed.

Ethnic Albanians, who make up 90% of the population of Kosovo, hope the talks will lead to full independence from Serbia - an outcome opposed by Belgrade.

Mourning period

Kosovo has been a United Nations protectorate since a Nato bombing campaign forced Serb forces to halt operations in the province in 1999.

Serbia insists Kosovo should remain a part of its territory but the ethnic Albanian majority in Kosovo is demanding full independence.

Kosovo's parliament held a special session to pay its respects on Sunday and 15 days of mourning were declared. Parliament has three months to vote in a new president.

See people paying tribute to Ibrahim Rugova

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