17 Jul 2011

Last heir to Empire buried

8:57 am on 17 July 2011

The funeral of the last heir to the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Otto von Habsburg, has taken place on Saturday in the Austrian capital Vienna.

His body was buried in the Imperial crypt amid pomp and ceremony associated with the former empire.

European royals and political leaders, many from nations that his family ruled over, are attending the ceremony.

Otto von Habsburg, a former Member of the European Parliament, died on 4 July at his home in Bavaria at the age of 98.

Thousands of people lined the streets of the city centre ahead of a procession into St Stephen's Cathedral, where about 1000 mourners were gathered.

Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn is presiding over the funeral mass, which is being attended by European royals including Sweden's King Carl Gustaf and Queen Silvia, Grand Duke Henri of Luxembourg and Prince Hans-Adam II of Liechtenstein.

Among the political figures at the ceremony are Austrian President Heinz Fischer, and the prime ministers of Croatia and Macedonia.

Mr Habsburg's body was buried in the Imperial crypt where his ancestors lie.

However, the BBC reports his heart will be taken to Hungary for burial at an abbey west of Budapest on Sunday, in accordance with a Habsburg tradition.

Advocate of European unity

A passionate advocate of European unity, Mr Habsburg served as a member of the European parliament for two decades.

Mr Habsburg was born in 1912, six years before the collapse of the Empire at the end of World War I.

He spent many decades exiled from Austria after his family fled in 1919, but relinquished his own claim to inherit the empire in 1961. Five years later he was allowed to return to Austria.

He was an opponent of the Nazis and spoke out against Germany's annexation of Austria in 1938.

After the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, Mr Habsburg dedicated himself to helping bring the former communist-ruled states of eastern Europe into the EU.