Statue of Gavrilo Prinip
A statue of Gavrilo Princip is unveiled in Belgrade Getty Images

Serbia has unveiled a statue to Gavrilo Princip, the man who helped to spark World War I when he assassinated Austro-Hungarian crown prince Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo in 1914.

Hundreds attended the unveiling ceremony for the controversial nationalist, who remains a divisive figure in the Balkans.

The ceremony took place on June 28, the 101st anniversary of the assassination, which is also the Serbian national holiday of St Vitus day.

Serbian President Tomislav Nikolic described Princip, regarded as many Serbs as a hero in the fight against Austro-Hungarian rule, as a "symbol of the idea of freedom".

"Others can think whatever they want to," he added.

For others though Princip was a terrorist, whose actions sparked a conflict which claimed the lives on 10 million people worldwide.

Princip is not revered by Bosnia's Bosniak Muslims or Catholic Croatians, with many associating him with the nationalist agenda of Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic, whose divisive policies helped spark the Yugoslav Wars (1991 - 2001).

"When Princip is described as fighting for the idea of Yugoslavia, this is linked to Milosevic and the type of Yugoslavia that he wanted to achieve," writes researcher Vera Katz in IBTimes UK.

The two-metre high statue stands in a square near the Serbian government headquarters, not far from a restaurant where Princip and his fellow nationalists plotted the assassination.

Spared the death sentence because he was only 19 when he committed the murder, Princip died of tuberculosis in prison in 1918.