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Mourners remember Yeltsin as a leader whose promises were thwarted

A sense of thwarted promise hung in the minds of many mourners lining up Wednesday outside a Moscow cathedral to view the body of Boris Yeltsin, the first president of post-Soviet Russia.

Yeltsin, who died Monday at age 76, is admired by the mourners for breaking the grip of monolithic Communism and moving the country toward full-fledged democracy - a move that they fear his successor Vladimir Putin is reversing.

"I came here to pay respect to Boris Nikolayevich for everything he has given us: freedom and the opportunity to realize ourselves," said 73-year-old Svetlana Zamishlayeva, one of those in line on a sunny and cool morning. But now, she said, "there is a certain retreat from freedom of the press, from fair elections, from all kinds of freedom."

"The policy course that he set is being dismantled today," said Nikita Belykh, leader of the liberal Union of Right Forces party that has become increasingly marginalized during Putin's seven years in office.

He suggested that Yeltsin may have expected Putin to continue his policies when he resigned and turned over the presidency to Putin on New Year's Eve 1999. "We all make mistakes," Belykh said outside the Cathedral of Christ the Savior.

Communist lawmakers meanwhile expressed resentment of Yeltsin's role in bringing an end to the Soviet Union. They refused to stand for a moment of silence called in Yeltsin's memory at the opening of the Wednesday session of the lower house of parliament, news agencies reported.

"We will never give honor to the destroyer of fatherland," Communist deputy Viktor Ilyukhin was quoted as saying by the RIA-Novosti news agency.

Yeltsin's funeral is to begin Wednesday afternoon, followed by burial in Novodevichy Cemetery, which holds the graves of many prominent Russian authors, musicians and artists.

Former U.S. Presidents George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton - both of whom were in office when Yeltsin was Russia's leader - were to attend the funeral. Another prominent foe of communism, Polish Nobel Peace laureate Lech Walesa, was also to attend.

The last Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, also was to attend. Gorbachev's reform attempts set in motion a wave of open dissatisfaction with the Soviet system. Yeltsin, once a Gorbachev ally, became an adversary as the Soviet Union disintegrated.

Many other countries were sending lower-ranked retired politicians and diplomats - a reflection of the funeral's quick timing but also perhaps of Yeltsin's uncertain legacy as unsteady deocrat, Communist scourge and incomplete reformer.

Since the body was placed in the cathedral on Tuesday, some 20,000 people have come to view it, the ITAR-Tass news agency reported, citing police estimates. The gold-domed building is a replica of the original, which was blown up by the Soviet authorities in 1931, just a few months after Yeltsin's birth, and rebuilt during his presidency.

Inside, white-robed Orthodox priests chanted prayers and swung censers.

The Soviet Union was an atheist state, so it seemed fitting Russia's first post-Soviet president was accorded religious rites. Though he made appearances at church services, Yeltsin was not regarded as an overtly pious man, but the Russian Orthodox Church was grateful for his support.

"By his strength, he helped the restoration of the proper role of the Russian Orthodox Church in the life of the country and its people," church spokesman Metropolitan Kirill said in a statement.

Yeltsin is widely remembered for his bold and principled stand against the 1990 hardline Communist coup attempt against Gorbachev and for launching Russia on the path to political pluralism.

"He gave us a choice - not just a choice between cheese and ham, but the possibility to think for ourselves," said mourner Alla Gerber, the head of Russia's Holocaust Foundation. "He took us out of the claws of that terrible regime."

But Yeltsin disappointed Russians by failing to bring political, economic and social stability to the nation. Many were outraged, as well, by his sale of the nation's industrial might and natural resources in shadowy auctions, by the disintegration of the public health care system and by pensions that turned to cinders in the fires of raging inflation.

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