Thousands gather in Romania for Roma king's funeral

SIBIU, Romania Fri Aug 23, 2013 12:30pm EDT

1 of 5. A girl plays on the hearse during the funeral ceremony of self-appointed Roma king Florin Cioaba in Sibiu cemetery, 190 km (118 miles) northwest of Bucharest August 23, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Radu Sigheti

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SIBIU, Romania (Reuters) - Thousands of people gathered in the Romanian city of Sibiu on Friday for the funeral of self-appointed Roma king Florin Cioaba, who died at the weekend.

They lined the roads in silence as Cioaba's coffin was driven in a convoy 7km (4 miles) from his home to a cemetery, with riot police and private security guards in attendance.

"The king is dead, long live the kings," relatives had shouted earlier beside his coffin as his two sons were named monarchs in his place, and crowns made of gold coins placed on their heads.

Cioaba died of a heart attack in a Turkish hospital on Sunday, aged 58. He proclaimed himself king in 1997, taking over the ceremonial role from his father. He was a popular leader in the Roma community, and pushed for modernization and education.

He counted as a friend Romanian President Traian Basescu, who brought a wreath to Cioaba's home earlier in the week but did not attend the funeral.

There are an estimated 10 million Roma living across Europe, and they are one of its oldest minorities. The Council of Europe, which monitors human rights, says they are also the most discriminated against minority on the continent.

The majority of Europe's Roma live in the Balkans, and there are about 2 million in Romania where many of them struggle with prejudice, poverty and high illiteracy rates.

Before the funeral procession left Cioaba's home in Sibiu, central Romania, representatives of the International Romani Union crowned his two sons, Dorin and Daniel, as international king of Roma and king of Roma in Romania, respectively.

"My brother and I will complement each other and we will try to come close to my father's worth, which will be difficult," Dorin Cioaba, the eldest son, told reporters.

Their father set up a council in 2010 to mediate disputes inside the community.

Cioaba was no stranger to controversy. In 2003, he drew the ire of the EU and Romanian officials when he married his 12-year-old daughter Ana Maria to a 15-year-old boy against her will, in accordance with an ancient Roma custom. Cioaba himself married his wife Maria at the age of 14.

(Writing by Luiza Ilie; Editing by Pravin Char)

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