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Russian and foreign dignitaries lined up to pay their last respects to Boris Yeltsin
Russian and foreign dignitaries lined up to pay their last respects to Boris Yeltsin and express condolences to the family of Russia's first post-Soviet president in a grand cathedral in Moscow Wednesday. Yeltsin, who has won praise for pioneering democratic reforms and been criticized for impoverishing millions during his tenure in the 1990s, died Monday of heart failure at the age of 76. Access to the body was closed to the public at 12:30, when dignitaries began arriving at the Christ the Savior Cathedral. The church, demolished by Soviet leader Josef Stalin in the 1930s, was reconstructed under Yeltsin. President Vladimir Putin paid his respects to Yeltsin, who handpicked him as his successor before surprising the nation by his resignation on New Year's Eve in 1999. In a televised address Monday, Putin said the late president had gone down in national and global history as "a man who gave birth to a new epoch." "A new, democratic Russia, a free country that opened itself up to the world and where power belongs to people, was born." Mikhail Gorbachev, Yeltsin's predecessor and arch rival, was also at the memorial ceremony along with Russia's prime minister, Cabinet members, senior lawmakers, business leaders, and diplomats. Foreign dignitaries who flew to Moscow for the occasion included two former U.S. presidents, Bill Clinton and George Bush, Sr., with whom Yeltsin maintained friendly relations after the end of his eight-year political career in 1999, Britain's ex-Premier John Major, and other current and former foreign leaders. Former Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma, ousted and now Moscow-based Kyrgyz leader Askar Akayev, and former Lithuanian President Algidras Brazauskas who Yeltsin backed in 1991, when the Baltic state moved to break away from Russia, were among the guests, who also included serving senior executives of ex-Soviet republics. Since Tuesday afternoon, about 25,000 Russians have paid their respects to their former leader and thousands have gathered near the Novodevichy cemetery, waiting for the state funeral. The Novodevichy cemetery, where many prominent Russian and Soviet writers, composers, scientists and politicians are buried, was opened to the public in the late 1980s on Yeltsin's orders, who was then Moscow chief. A church hierarch leading the service Wednesday morning called on those present, irrespective of their opinion of the former president, to "display Christian love" and remember "the numerous moments that were conducive to our present freedom." Archbishop Arseny also acknowledged Yeltsin's contribution to the revival of religion in the atheistic Soviet society. Communist members of parliament, irreconcilable adversaries of the late president, refused to stand up during the minute of silence that opened a State Duma session Wednesday and did not turn up at the memorial service. Wednesday has been declared a day of mourning in Russia.
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