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Bruce Lee Symbol of Unity in Bosnia

Bosnia's southern town of Mostar unveiled the world's first statue of kung fu legend Bruce Lee on Saturday, paying homage to a childhood hero of all its divided ethnic groups.

The life-size 1.68-metre bronze statue is situated in Mostar's central park, close to the former front line of Bosnia's 1992-95 civil war. A decade after the conflict, Mostar's Muslim and Croat inhabitants remain deeply split.

Unveiled by its initiators, Veselin Gatalo and Nino Raspudic of Mostar's Urban Movement, the statue portrays the Chinese-American actor, who died 32 years ago, in a typical defensive fighting position.

"This does not mean that Bruce Lee will unite us, because people are different and cannot be united and we will always be Muslims, Serbs or Croats," Gatalo said. "But one thing we all have in common is Bruce Lee."

Gatalo has said Lee a hero to teenagers all over Bosnia in the 1970s and 1980s epitomized justice, mastery and honesty, virtues the town had badly missed.

The ceremony on a rainy autumn day was attended by dozens of people and the ambassadors of China and Germany, both of which helped the project.

Mostar's most famous symbol a 16th century bridge which the Bosnian Croat artillery destroyed in 1993 during some of the fiercest battles of the war was rebuilt last year but reconciliation has been slow.

Raspudic said the statue would help Mostar find a new association. "It's no longer a black hole," he said.

Hong Kong, where Lee grew up, unveiled its own statue of the martial arts master on what would have been his 65th birthday yesterday at a ceremony attended by his widow Linda.

The chairman of the Hong Kong-based Bruce Lee Club, Wong Yiu-keung, said he was not upset that Bosnia had beaten Hong Kong in erecting a memorial to Lee. "This is not a competition," he was quoted as saying in a local newspaper.

Lee was born in San Francisco and shot to fame with a series of martial arts movies, staring with "Enter the Dragon" in 1973. He died aged 32 from swelling of the brain.

(China Daily November 28, 2005)

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