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Crowd bids Wiesenthal farewell

Mourners laud his pursuit of justice

VIENNA -- Political leaders, diplomats, and the young and old of all faiths bade farewell to Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal yesterday, paying tribute to his decades-long pursuit of World War II's most heinous criminals.

The 96-year-old activist died in his sleep Tuesday. His dark, shrouded coffin lay in the center of a hall filled with his friends, Austria's leaders, and the media at Vienna's Central Cemetery.

Mayor Michael Haeupl thanked Wiesenthal for remaining for decades in Austria's capital. He stayed at an uncomfortable time, when many here did not wish to be reminded of the country's actions under Nazi rule.

''He was treated unfairly," Haeupl said. ''And when this unfairness comes from friends, it hurts twice as much."

Austria's Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn, Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel, as well as the interior and justice ministers, attended the ceremony. It was open to the public.

Schuessel told the crowd that Wiesenthal's mission had offered an example for postwar officials dealing with war criminals, saying his belief that individuals should be held responsible set the tone for UN tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda.

Ambassador Dan Ashbel of Israel described Wiesenthal as the conscience that led to justice for the victims.

''You left us with the task of reminding humanity of the Holocaust and to warn of misanthropy," Ashbel said. ''We share your hope for a better world and will carry on your mission and work."

Following the half-hour ceremony, people filed past the casket. Several wreaths, including two large ones with purple and white flowers, lay nearby. Their ribbons, in the blue and white colors of the Israeli flag, carried wishes from Israel and from the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum.

Carla Amina Baghajati, who represented the Islamic Community in Austria, said: ''I felt obliged to pay respects to a man who had done so much. He was a person who spent his lifetime seeking justice."

Tributes to Wiesenthal poured in from President Bush, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, and former chancellor Helmut Kohl of Germany.

''He felt he had to do something for those who didn't come back," Nazi hunter Serge Klarsfeld said. ''He was a witness."

Wiesenthal will be buried tomorrow in Israel, where his daughter, Paulina Kreisberg, lives.

His wife, Cyla, died in 2003.

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