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Serbia reburies last Yugoslav king


Yugoslavia's last king Petar II Karadjordjevic -- who fled the Nazi occupation of his country just days after being proclaimed monarch at the age of 17 -- was reburied with state honours in Serbia on Sunday.

Serbian dignitaries joined hundreds of royalists who turned out for the ceremony in the central town of Oplenac to honour King Petar, 43 years after his death in the United States.

"Our king was forced to leave, he was forced never to set his foot back to his homeland, but now, finally, he is here where he belongs," Milka Radojicic, a 78-year old from the nearby town of Topola, said with tears in her eyes.

Petar was laid to rest alongside his mother Marija -- a great-granddaughter of Britain's Queen Victoria -- as well as his wife Alexandra, the daughter of King Alexander I of Greece, and his brother Andrej.

Their coffins, draped in Serbian state flags, were laid out in the Orthodox church of Saint George during the liturgy performed by Serbian Patriarch Irinej before being taken to the royal family crypt in Oplenac.

Top officials including President Tomislav Nikolic and Prime Minister Ivica Dacic attended the ceremony along with members of the royal family and foreign dignitaries including Jordan's King Abdullah II and Britain's Duke of Kent.

Hundreds of supporters gathered to pay tribute to the royals, some spending the night outside the picturesque church to be able to watch the ceremony.

The third and last king of Yugoslavia, Petar succeeded to the throne in 1934 following the assassination of his father King Aleksandar I in the French city of Marseille.

But as he was only 11 when his father was killed, his uncle Prince Pavle ruled in his stead.

On March 27, 1941, Petar was proclaimed king at the age of 17 in a coup staged in opposition to Yugoslavia joining the so-called Tripartite pact signed by Germany, Italy and Japan.

However, he was forced to leave the country with his family only 11 days later as Germany invaded Yugoslavia.

He spent the remainder of World War II in Britain but was prevented from returning to Yugoslavia by the communist regime of Josip Broz Tito as the monarchy was abolished in 1945.

He moved to the United States, where he died in 1970 aged 47, and his remains were returned to Serbia in January.

Hundreds of people, mostly elderly and some dressed in former royal army uniforms, queued to pay their respects to the late monarch, also known as King Peter.

"This funeral is only a drop in the ocean that can not amend countless sins that have been committed against the royal family," said pensioner Djordje Zelenic from Belgrade.

"Young Petar did not even have a chance to show his people how would his rule and I live for a day that his son Aleksandar will take the helm."

A survey published this month by pollsters SAS found that 40 percent of 1,615 people questioned considered that a possible restoration of a parliamentary monarchy was a a good idea, while 32 percent were opposed.

Aleksandar, who was born and lived in exile in London, returned to Serbia in late 2000 but lives as a private individual.

As the only son of the last king who never abdicated, Aleksandar is considered the rightful heir to the Serbian throne should the monarchy ever be restored.

He and his wife run a humanitarian and educational foundation. They are known for donating medical equipment to Serbia's impoverished hospitals and for their support of orphanages.

Although in the 1990s he supported the opposition in its bid to oust late strongman Slobodan Milosevic from power, Aleksandar has never publicly sought a political role nor the restoration of the monarchy.