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Russians pay last respects to Solzhenitsyn

Russians lined up in the rain in Moscow on Tuesday to pay their last respects to Alexander Solzhenitsyn, the writer whose books did much to reveal the truth about the Soviet system of labor camps.

Solzhenitsyn, a Nobel literature prize laureate, died of heart failure at his home near Moscow late on Sunday. He was 89.

The lavish ceremony saw the dissident writer's body lying in state in the Academy of Sciences in the Russian capital. His open casket stood before a Russian flag as a guard of honor marched slowly past.

Prime Minister and former president Vladimir Putin placed a bunch of red roses by the coffin and offered his condolences to Solzhenitsyn's widow, Natalia, and his sons. The ceremony was also attended by a host of other top officials, leading cultural figures and scientists.

World leaders have also sent their condolences to Solzhenitsyn's family since the news of his death broke, calling him "a symbol of freedom."

In a telegram from the Russian government to his family, Solzhenitsyn was called "the country's conscience and an embodiment of internal freedom and dignity," and "a man, whose books and life served as moral guidelines for the nation."

Best known for his Gulag Archipelago, a chronicle of his and thousands of other people's experiences in Joseph Stalin's labor camps, Solzhenitsyn first came to acclaim in Russia and the world during Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev's political "thaw." In 1962, his One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich - a numbing account of gulag life - was published by the Soviet literary journal Novy Mir.

However, in 1974, with the "thaw" a distant memory, and four years after being awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, Solzhenitsyn was exiled from Russia.

He spent 20 years abroad, mainly in the United States, finally returning home in 1994, three years after the breakup of the Soviet Union.

The writer, however, was disappointed with the new Russia, which he said had lost much of its spirituality, increasingly adopting Western materialistic values.

He also criticized the West, saying after NATO's bombing of the former Yugoslavia in 1999 that, "I don't see any difference in the behavior of NATO and of Hitler."

Solzhenitsyn will be buried in an Orthodox ceremony at the Donskoi Monastery in the Russian capital on Wednesday. He chose his final resting place himself some five years ago.

RIA Novosti


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