Yeltsin given lavish ceremony

Former US Presidents George HW Bush and Bill Clinton and former British Prime Minister John Major joined foreign dignitaries at church services and a funeral procession through Moscow's streets to the landmark Novodevichy Cemetery, paying respects to Yeltsin during a day of mourning and symbolism.

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Yeltsin's anointed successor – Vladimir Putin – played a low-key role, attending the church service and marching with his wife Lyudmila in the burial procession.

At a Kremlin reception hours after the burial, he promised to pursue his predecessor's goals.

"He sincerely tried to do everything to make the lives of millions of Russians better," Putin said.

"We will move toward these goals.

"Having become president thanks to the support of millions of citizens of the country, he changed the face of power, tore down the blind wall between society and the state," he said.

Many mourners said they admired Yeltsin for breaking the grip of monolithic Communism and moving the country to pluralism – and said they fear his successor Putin is reversing the progress.

Before the burial, more than 20,000 people filed through the gold-domed cathedral, which is the site of the Orthodox Church's most important services, to view Yeltsin's body.

Following an 85-minute ceremony that echoed with priests' chanting and a choir singing funeral liturgy, the coffin – draped in the Russian tricolour – was driven in a black Mercedes hearse on a winding seven kilometre procession through the city centre and along the Moscow River.

With the coffin resting on a metal cart, Yeltsin's tearful widow Naina – dressed in a black dress and scarf – stroked his shock of white hair and tenderly kissed his forehead and cheeks.

White-robed Orthodox priests chanted prayers and swung censers before pallbearers closed the coffin and lower it into the ground.

All major Russian television channels broadcast live from the cathedral, the funeral procession and the cemetery burial, which culminated in an artillery fusillade and the playing of the Russian national anthem.

Yeltsin, who died of heart failure on Monday at age 76, pulled the country out from the Soviet Union and pushed it into a fitful democracy, seeking to inject pluralism and vigour to Russia after decades of Communist repression and stagnation.

The first freely elected president of Russia, Yeltsin was admired for opposing the 1990 hard-line coup attempt but derided for his heavy drinking and despised for allowing insiders to snap up Russia's industrial gems while millions of his countrymen plunged into poverty.

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