Cyclists race through Sarajevo to mark WWI centenary, promote peace

Sun Jun 22, 2014 8:17am EDT
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By Daria Sito-Sucic

SARAJEVO (Reuters) - Thousands of cyclists tore through the Bosnian capital on Sunday in a race sponsored by the Tour de France to promote peace a century after the Sarajevo assassination that lit the fuse for World War One.

The race was the first in a string of events to mark the June 28 centenary of the murder of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, in 1914.

That year's Tour de France began the same day, but was called off as Europe raced to war. Forty-eight of the Tour's cyclists, including three former winners since its start in 1903, were among more than 10 million soldiers who would die.

"It is an event which gathers and unites the people, and the message we are sending from here is the message of peace and unity," Christian Prudhomme, the director of the Tour de France, told Reuters.

Sunday's race was loaded with symbolism, the 150-kilometre (93 mile) course crossing the former frontline during Bosnia's 1992-95 war. The capital remains divided, between the country's two autonomous regions created with the war's end.

Bosnia's Serbs, Croats and Muslim Bosniaks themselves are divided too over how they see the assassination of Ferdinand by Bosnian Serb Gavrilo Princip.

Serbs see Princip as a freedom fighter, his gunshot bringing down the curtain on centuries of imperial occupation over the various peoples of the Balkans.

Many Bosniaks and Croats take a more benevolent view of the Austro-Hungarian empire, and say Princip was the trigger for four years of terrible bloodshed and suffering.   Continued...

Competitors warm up as they ride through Sarajevo before the Sarajevo Grand Prix, June 22, 2014. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic