Kosovo Leader's Funeral to Be Held

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President Ibrahim Rugova will be laid to rest in Kosovo. Rugova, 61, led efforts by ethnic Albanians to fight Serbian dominance and sought to establish an independent Kosovo. His death — from lung cancer — came just before U.N.-sponsored talks in Vienna with Serbia on the future of the province.


Today in the Kosovo capital Priština, a funeral is being held for Ibrahim Rugova. He is the Kosovo leader who died last weekend of lung cancer. Rugova's death came just before talks were to begin with Serbia on the future of the province. Those U.N. sponsored talks have been delayed until next month. Reporter Eleanor Beardsley is in Priština. And what is the scene there today?

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY reporting: Renee, the scene this morning is the funeral procession going through the streets of Priština, with just thousands, I would say tens of thousands of Kosovo Albanians lining the sides of the road and following the coffin of President Rugova.

MONTAGNE: Because it's quite a sad occasion, because his death was so, not quite unexpected, but his life was cut short.

BEARDSLEY: Absolutely. He did announce that he had lung cancer in September, but I think no one expected him to die last Saturday. He died at the age of 61. And all week his body has been lying in state in Priština, and people have just flocked from all over the province. You would find peasants from small villages who made the trek, standing in line for hours in sub-zero temperatures just to go in and bow and pay their final respects to their president.

MONTAGNE: And why did Rugova matter so much? Tell us a bit about him.

BEARDSLEY: Well, before he became a politician in 1989, he's a quiet, bespectacled man. He was a writer and a literary professor. But he was catapulted to the front of the Albanian independence movement. He led the peaceful resistance of Albanians to the Serb regime of Slobodan Milosevic in 10 years in the 1990s. They resisted the Serb leadership, but they were peaceful, and he led that. And now he is sort of the figure head, he is the symbol of this independence that every Albanian in Kosovo wants, and this is what he represents now. He is the father of the independent country that they hope to have one day.

MONTAGNE: So, what does his death mean for the future of Kosovo?

BEARDSLEY: Well, those talks about Kosovo's status were supposed to start this week, and his death has postponed that. Now, Kosovo is still officially a part of Serbia, but it has been run as an international protectorate since 1999 when NATO and the U.N. came and threw out Milosevic's forces. But it is sort of become a state in limbo. There's two million people here, and Albanians outnumber Serbs 9 to 1, and they overwhelming all want independence. They say, we can't get investment, we can't continue to have economic development unless his question is solved. So, that was on the agenda.

Many people are afraid that Rugova's departure leaves a huge vacuum within the Albanian politicians. They might disintegrate into infighting and the talks may be put on hold in definitely. So that's the fear.

MONTAGNE: And no likely successor?

BEARDSLEY: There are a couple. Some of the successors to Rugova, now he was a peaceful man; he was peaceful, non-violent resistance, the other Albanian politicians that came up are former KLA fighters, so they have a really different mentality. There are a couple of people, but it isn't at all clear who will be his successor, no.

MONTAGNE: Thank you very much, Eleanor.

BEARDSLEY: Thank you, Renee.

MONTAGNE: Reporter Eleanor Beardsley speaking from Priština, where Kosovo leader Ibrahim Rugova is being buried today.

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