SPLIT, Croatia (AP) — Lighting torches and applauding, tens of thousands of people on Tuesday bid an emotional farewell to Oliver Dragojevic, the late Croatian singer who was also adored throughout the former Yugoslavia for his songs celebrating love and the Adriatic Sea.
Crowds lined the docks in the coastal city of Split as a boat carrying Dragojevic’s body, escorted by two Croatian military ships and hundreds of small boats, sailed off toward his native island of Korcula for burial on Wednesday.
The casket was carried through Split before it was put on the boat while a local choir sang his best-known songs. A religious ceremony also was held at a local church.
In Korcula, mourners waited in silence while the boat came in and applauded when the coffin was brought to land.
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Croatian authorities said ferry lines from Split to Korcula would be free Wednesday so people could attend the funeral.
Dragojevic, who died Sunday at the age of 70, was known for his hoarse voice and accent typical of Croatia’s Dalmatian coast. The singer remained popular in the countries that made up Yugoslavia before it broke apart in a war during the 1990s.
Before the seaside send-off, top Croatian officials, fellow singers and admirers attended a memorial service at the Croatian National Theatre in Split. Many cried as they applauded for several minutes before standing up and singing one of Dragojevic’s songs.
“Oliver is really unique, the best,” Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic said after the event.
“In the last 50 years, he left a mark at the very heart of our society’s culture, identity and music,” Plenkovic said. “He is part of our best moments and memories since our childhood….We are happy to have lived the same time he did.”
Croatia declared Tuesday a day of national mourning for Dragojevic. Flags were kept at half-staff and tributes aired on local television stations.