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Russians pay respects to Yeltsin

Story Highlights

• Russians queue to pay respects to Boris Yeltsin as he lies in state in Moscow
• Former Russian president died from heart failure aged 76 on Monday
• National day of mourning, funeral to take place on Wednesday
• Yeltsin remembered as a courageous defender of democracy but flawed politician
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MOSCOW, Russia (CNN) -- Russia's first democratic president, Boris Yeltsin, was buried Wednesday following a funeral service in central Moscow.

Yeltsin's coffin was carried to its final resting place on the shoulders of Russia's elite honor guard.

While Kremlin leaders have traditionally been buried in Red Square, in another break from the past, the former Russian leader was laid to rest at the Novodevichye cemetery on the banks of the Moskva River.

Yeltsin, who had a profound impact on life in Russia, will be buried in the company of the nation's cultural icons, including playwrights, composers and filmmakers.

"It's been a somber but lavish state funeral," said CNN Senior International Correspondent Matthew Chance.

Yeltsin's funeral was a highly symbolic one, indicative of his legacy of change, since it was the first time in 100 years that a Russian leader was mourned in a church, he added.

Yeltsin was placed at the rebuilt Christ the Savior Cathedral in central Moscow for the funeral service to honor the leader who was often hated at home but adored abroad.

Led by priests in white robes, surrounded by red and gold candles, Russians and world leaders paid their final respects to the man who presided over post-soviet Russia.

Former U.S. President Bill Clinton -- a close friend of Yeltsin -- was in attendance, along with about a dozen former and serving heads of state and senior foreign officials.

Hundreds of mourners queued to pay their last respects. (Watch how Russians describe his legacy Video)

At the request of his family, the final moments of Yeltsin's funeral were not televised, allowing his wife, children and grandchildren to bid him a final farewell in relative privacy.

After the funeral, Yeltsin's body was escorted to its final resting place in slow moving procession by a gun carriage flanked on both sides by the honor guard. Roses and carnations were strewn on the street and a parade of soldiers carried large flower arrangements. His family and powerful political friends followed close behind.

It was under Yeltsin and after the collapse of communism that the Christ the Savior Cathedral, which was blown up by Soviet dictator Josef Stalin, was rebuilt.

Yeltsin's face was swollen by years of ill health, Reuters said. His body had been dressed in a black tie and black suit. His widow Naina Yeltsin, dressed in a black veil and her eyes puffy from crying, sat in a pew next to their daughter Tatyana Dyachenko.

Remembered both as the man who dismantled the Soviet Union after his election in 1991 and for his failings and buffoonery in office, Yeltsin died on Monday at the age of 76. (Full story)

His chosen successor, Russian President Vladimir Putin, issued a decree declaring Wednesday a day of national mourning. Putin also called Yeltsin's widow to express his condolences, Interfax reported.

Flags were flying at half staff, and television stations took entertainment programs off the air, in accordance with Putin's decree, Reuters reported.

Yeltsin had suffered health problems since resigning on December 31, 1999, and died from sudden heart failure, medical sources told Russia's Interfax news agency.

Paying tribute

Mourners in black, including friends, family and members of Russia's political elite gathered Wednesday to pay tribute to the "founding father" of post-communist Russia.

World leaders also paid respects as Yeltsin's body lay in state, watched over by a military honor guard.

In attendance at the ceremony were Russia's current president Vladamir Putin, former U.S. presidents Bill Clinton and George Bush, former British PM John Major and Britain's Prince Andrew as well as former Polish president Lech Walesa.

While tensions were high between the U.S. and post-communist Russia after the Soviet collapse, Clinton and Yeltsin shared a close friendship based on similar political views lose. They built up close a personal friendship when they were both presidents of their nations.

They played an important role in negotiating international diplomacy issues but were at odds a number of times, notably in 1999 over the NATO campaign against Yugoslavia.

Analysts said the funeral service was subdued in comparison to previous funerals for Russian leaders, usually involving grand marches and displays of military prowess such as military parades common in Soviet Russia.

Mixed legacy

Yeltsin was both loved and hated by fellow Russians. (Watch why Yeltsin's legacy is likely to be mixed Video)

"Yeltsin worked very hard and did an awful lot for the people of Russia," Lydia, 80, who stood at the front of the queue to see Yeltsin, clutching a bunch of pink carnations told Reuters. "Of course he made some mistakes, but who doesn't?"

In December 1994, Yeltsin sent Russian troops to stop the fighting in Chechnya in what would become a 21-month conflict. Later he said he couldn't tolerate the "disintegration of Russia," and acknowledged his actions might have been a mistake.

"I feel the pain of every mother's family," Yeltsin said. "My heart bleeds for every victim. It makes me sleepless at night, and no one can help me with that."

Yeltsin favored privatization, but sweeping corruption put the vast majority of wealth in the hands of a few individuals who "wielded enormous political power." Chance said this upset and angered many Russians who were left with nothing.

Yeltsin had a dark side that included embarrassing incidents in which he appeared to be drunk. In Berlin in 1994, he grabbed a baton from a conductor and tried to direct an orchestra while singing and stumbling.

Copyright 2007 CNN. All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Associated Press contributed to this report.

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