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Serbia holds funeral for Yugoslavia's last king

Sunday - 5/26/2013, 11:00am  ET

The coffins of King Petar II Karadjordjevic, second from left, his wife Queen Aleksandra, first from left, mother Queen Maria, third from left and brother Prince Andrej, draped in Serbian royal flags during the funeral ceremony at the St George royal chapel in the town of Topola, Serbia, Sunday, May 26, 2013. Serbia has held a funeral for Yugoslavia's last king, Peter II Karadjordjevic, who fled the country at the start of World War II and died 1970 in exile aged 47 in the U.S., never returning to Yugoslavia because Communists took over the country at the end of the war. The former king’s remains, and those of his wife, mother and brother, were interred in the family tomb at St. George church during a ceremony aired live on state television. (AP Photo/Andrej Cukic)

BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) -- Serbia held a funeral on Sunday for Yugoslavia's last king, Peter II Karadjordjevic, who had fled the country at the start of World War II and died in the U.S. in 1970.

The former king's remains, and those of his wife, mother and brother, were interred in the family tomb at St. George church in Oplenac, central Serbia, in a ceremony aired live on the state television.

The funeral was attended by top state officials, who described it as an act of reconciliation and unity.

After fleeing Yugoslavia during its Nazi occupation, the former king never returned because Communists took over the country at the end of the war and abolished the monarchy.

He died in exile at the age of 47 and was buried at a Serbian Orthodox Church monastery in Libertyville, Illinois -- the only European monarch laid to rest on U.S. soil.

"We can no longer afford any divisions and injustice," President Tomislav Nikolic said in a speech at Sunday's ceremony.

Peter was born into a royal family, and his godfather was Britain's King George VI, but his life was often tragic and chaotic.

He was only 11 years old when his father, King Alexander I, was assassinated in 1934 in Marseilles, France. For the next six years the boy's powers were in the hands of a three-man regency headed by his uncle, Prince Paul.

In March 1941, Prince Paul was overthrown in a military coup after signing a pact with Germany.

Peter, then 17, was made the king by the Serb anti-fascists. But when Germany invaded Yugoslavia in April 1941, Peter was forced to flee, first to Greece, then to Egypt, then to Britain, where he headed the government-in-exile. He later lived in France and ended up in the U.S.

History books portray him as a figurehead leader and a victim of cunning politicians.


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