NEWS AND ANALYSIS - COUNTDOWN TO INDEPENDENCE
Tens of thousands of mourners in Kosovo marched in the rain to a cemetery Saturday for the burial of 15 students killed in a bus crash as they were returning from a field trip to neighbouring Albania. The coffins, draped in Albanian flags and covered with wreaths, were lowered into side-by-side graves not far from the students' high school in this central Kosovo town. The teenagers' bus collided with a car Thursday and tumbled over a cliff in Albania. The driver of the car was also killed, and 30 other passengers on the bus were injured.The accident was one of the worst tragedies for the province since the Serb military crackdown on ethnic Albanians seeking independence for Kosovo in the late 1990s. The victims were mainly youngsters in their graduation year.Two days of mourning were declared, flags were lowered to half-mast and campaigning for next week's general elections in Kosovo was suspended.At Saturday's burials, families clutched framed pictures of their children and wept in front of the graves. Fellow students carrying wreaths for their friends leaned on one another for support.The bus was bringing about 50 teens back to Kosovo after an excursion in Albania when it collided with a car and went over the cliff in Fushe Arrez, 175 kilometres north of the capital, Tirana. It was part of a convoy of six buses carrying about 300 high school students.Photos showed the bus cut in half, its roof pushed to the side. A witness said the bus had rolled some 100 metres down the cliff.Also at the funeral were top UN and NATO officials, senior leaders from Kosovo, Albania and other dignitaries."We're parting with 15 unfulfilled dreams," said Pandeli Majko, Albania's defence minister.
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