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On the first anniversary of Boris Yeltsin's death on Wednesday, President
On the first anniversary of Boris Yeltsin's death on Wednesday, President Vladimir Putin gave a glowing tribute to Russia's first president at a ceremony to unveil a memorial.

The outgoing president, addressing a gathering including Yeltsin's widow and daughters and president-elect Dmitry Medvedev, said: "The turbulent nineties were a time of sweeping changes and brave, exceptional people, characters capable of going against the current, calling for new goals and bringing the masses behind them; Boris Nikolayevich Yeltsin was without any exaggeration one of those exceptional people."

The gathering at the Novodyevichye (New Maidens') Cemetery in central Moscow was attended by top government officials and Patriarch Alexy II, who blessed the new monument to Yeltsin, a stone sculpture of a billowing Russian tricolor. A Kremlin guard of honor marched by.

Putin, who was plucked from obscurity by Yeltsin to become Russia's leader eight years ago, said his mentor "passed through a difficult path both as a politician and a citizen, and often during his life found himself faced with complex, important choices, but his path was as unique as that of our country."

Yeltsin, who has been both praised as a champion of democratic reforms and criticized for impoverishing millions of Russians, died of heart failure at the age of 76 on April 23, 2007. He was Russia's president in 1991-1999.

The Yeltsin family had picked Georgy Frangulyan's work for the tomb memorial. The prolific sculptor's creations include a statue of Russian Tsar Peter the Great in Antwerp, of poet Alexander Pushkin in Brussels, and the Crucifixion in the Church of St. Francis in Italy's Ravenna.

The Novodevichye cemetery is the final resting place of many prominent Russian and Soviet writers, composers, scientists and politicians.

Putin said the flag on Yeltsin's tomb was a token of the Russians' painful democratic aspirations and their choice in favor of freedom and development.

Putin, who steps down in May to take on the post of prime minister, said the president would always stand on guard of the Constitution and civil rights.

"Presidential authority will always be a consistent guard of the Fundamental Law, citizens' rights, and will serve the Russian people and protect the country's sovereign rights," he said.

Authorities in the Urals city of Yekaterinburg, where Yeltsin studied and worked, have named a street and the university to mark the anniversary of the first president's death.

The central street in Yeltsin's home town of Butka near Yekaternburg, which was previously named after Karl Marx, has been renamed in his honor.

Russia's second city St. Petersburg is expected to open a Yeltsin library by the end of this year. Nizhny Novgorod on the Volga plans to build a tennis center that will bear the name of Yeltsin, a keen tennis enthusiast.

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