Source AP ©

World leaders' response to Yeltsin's death

World leaders responded quickly Monday to the death of Boris Yeltsin, calling him a personal friend and praising him as a courageous fighter during the Soviet Union's dramatic change.

"Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family and the Russian people. Former President Yeltsin led Russia through a period of historic transformation," State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said. There was no immediate word on whom the U.S. government would send to attend Yeltsin's funeral.

Condolences and praise poured in. The European Union and the NATO alliance hailed Yeltsin as a healer of the Cold War divide who opened up Russia to the rest of Europe.

"As President he had enormous challenges and difficult mandates, but he certainly brought East and West closer together and helped replace confrontation by cooperation," said Jose Manuel Barroso, the president of the European Commission.

Barroso said Yeltsin would be best remembered as standing up to the coup d'йtat aimed at restoring a dictatorial regime in Russia.

Yeltsin's personality was a strong one as well, leaders remembered. Former Chancellor Helmut Kohl and others called him a personal friend.

In August 1994, Yeltsin's antics as he and Kohl presided over an otherwise dignified withdrawal of the Red Army from east Germany endeared him to Germans. On the steps of Berlin's Rotes Rathaus city hall, a flush-faced Yeltsin grabbed a police band conductor's baton and began directing the musicians. German officials later told an AP reporter that Yeltsin had begun drinking before noon.

"Boris Yeltsin was a large personality in Russian and international politics, a courageous fighter for democracy and freedom and a true friend of Germany. His contribution to the development of relations between our two countries will not be forgotten," German Chancellor Angela Merkel said.

Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, the secretary general of the NATO alliance which for decades faced the Soviet military threat against Western Europe and North America _ also praised Yeltsin's courage.

"He was a remarkable man who saw the need for democratic and economic reform and, in defending it, he played a vital role at a crucial time in Russia's history," British Prime Minister Tony Blair said in a statement.

And Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt called Yeltsin "one of the really great men of our time."

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