Putin joins mourners at Solzhenitsyn coffin

Tue Aug 5, 2008 10:22am EDT
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By James Kilner and Conor Sweeney

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Clutching a bunch of blood red roses, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin joined hundreds of elderly Russians on Tuesday laying flowers at the foot of Soviet dissident writer Alexander Solzhenitsyn's open coffin.

Solzhenitsyn, a Nobel laureate who won international fame by showing the world the horror of Soviet labor camps through his books, died of heart failure on Sunday aged 89.

Four Russian soldiers stood to attention at each corner of his coffin in the Russian Academy of Sciences, the hallmark of an official lying-in-state. A large portrait of Solzhenitsyn and a Russian flag completed the backdrop.

Outside the mammoth white building overlooking the River Moskva, a steady trickle of mainly elderly Russians shrugged off heavy rain to mourn their hero.

Solzhenitsyn's widow Natalia and his sons looked on as mourners brought small bouquets of white or red flowers to lay before his coffin.

"Solzhenitsyn was one of the most important people in the history of Russia; he wrote exactly what he thought and needed to be remembered," said maths professor Alexander Romanov, 60.

"It's a shame that not all young people understand how important he is."

At around 1 p.m. Putin, a former agent of the KGB security service that led the persecution campaign against Solzhenitsyn, strode into the hall flanked by burly security guards.   Continued...

<p>The body of writer and former Soviet dissident Alexander Solzhenitsyn lies in state at the Academy of Science in Moscow August 5, 2008. REUTERS/Sergei Karpukhin</p>