GORI, Georgia (AP) _ In Josef Stalin's hometown, the late Soviet dictator was remembered Tuesday not as a tyrant, but as a simple man known fondly as ``Uncle Joe.''

About 100 Georgians gathered outside the small cabin in Gori that was Stalin's childhood home to mark the 43rd anniversary of his death. Other rallies were held in the Georgian capital Tbilisi and in Moscow.

``Today is a day of mourning,'' said Aliko Lursmanishvili, the first secretary of Gori's Communist Party.

Ignoring the millions of people Stalin sent to their death during his 24-year-rule, many of today's communists recall the Stalin era as a time of stability and relative prosperity.

``They remember what Stalin built,'' Lursmanishvili said.

Gori's residents are intensely proud of their infamous son, frequently offering the first toast at family dinners to the dictator, born Josef Dzhugashvili into a cobbler's family in 1879.

He died of a stroke in Moscow on March 5, 1953.

Stalin's cousin, 69-year-old Maria Dzhugashvili, stood amid the mourners Tuesday and recalled meeting the Soviet leader in 1947.

``He was in uniform, he was so strong,'' she said. ``He was simple, and he liked simple people.''

The image of kindly, pipe-smoking ``Uncle Joe'' contrasts sharply with the dictator who sent millions to their deaths in labor camps or purges.

In Moscow, Gennady Zyuganov, the Communist candidate for president who has a comfortable lead in opinion polls, said Stalin should be recalled in a wider context that acknowledges his achievements.

``We should study what actually happened,'' he told a news conference. ``Those tragic pages of our history should not be repeated, but let's look at the war and Stalin's role in the victory and look at it all together.''