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Croats Pay Respects to Late Leader

December 11, 2000

ZAGREB, Croatia (AP) _ Up to 10,000 Croats made a pilgrimage to the tomb of late President Franjo Tudjman on the first anniversary of his death, a surprising turnout because of the unpopularity of the political party he left behind.

Tudjman, who led Croatia to independence from former Yugoslavia in 1991, died from cancer on Dec. 10, 1999. A month later, his nationalist Croatian Democratic Union, was ousted from power by a democratic, pro-Western leadership.

On Sunday, the party bused in supporters who gathered around Tudjman’s tomb at Zagreb’s main cemetery, many carrying his photograph or Croatian flags.

``The last 10 years (under Tudjman) were the most beautiful thing that has ever happened to Croats,″ said Josip Paskvan, 65, who came from the coastal city of Zadar.

Opinion polls suggest the Tudjman party is the least popular among major parties. But the party was apparently able to mobilize enough supporters who are angered by tough economic policies, official disclosures about corruption and nepotism during the Tudjman years, and the government’s cooperation with the war crimes tribunal in The Hague.

Twelve generals forced to retire received a 15-minute ovation at the ceremony. The generals have accused the government of tarnishing the memory of the country’s war by prosecuting Croats for war crimes.

After independence, Tudjman organized the defense when Croatia’s Serbs took up arms against secession. More than 10,000 people died in the war that followed, which did not end until 1995.

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