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Russia: Raisa Gorbachev Is Laid To Rest In Moscow

Raisa Gorbachev, the wife of the last Soviet leader, was laid to rest today in ceremonies in Moscow. Our correspondent reports that in addition to many dignitaries, hundreds of ordinary Russians turned out to show their belated respect for the woman.

Moscow, 24 September 1999 (RFE/RL) -- A silent procession of about a hundred friends, dignitaries and colleagues today joined former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev at Moscow's exclusive Novodievichy cemetery to bury Gorbachev's wife, Raisa.

Our correspondent reports the procession's way was strewn with long-stemmed roses from the cemetery's entrance to a marble platform where the coffin was laid out for a final farewell.

The burial ceremony was led by film director Nikita Mikhalkov, who praised Raisa for standing by her husband. He said because of Raisa, Mikhail Gorbachev was spared the loneliness that often accompanies men at the top.

Other speakers included former German Chancellor Helmut Kohl and CNN vice-president Patricia Mitchell.

Taking part in the service were former Russian prime ministers Yevgeny Primakov and Sergei Stepashin and Belarus President Alyaksandr Lukashenka. President Boris Yeltsin's wife, Naina, also attended.

On Wednesday and earlier yesterday, hundreds of Muscovites gathered to mourn Raisa Gorbachev at the Moscow cultural center which she supported.

Raisa Gorbachev died in a German clinic on Monday from leukemia. She was 67.

Our correspondent says that although Raisa Gorbachev was resented by ordinary Russians while her husband ruled the Soviet Union, the many Russians who showed up to pay their last respects appeared to sincerely grieve her passing.

A line hundreds of meters long snaked slowly along the cultural center building, with mourners waiting for hours to go inside to leave flowers by the open coffin.

One ordinary mourner, Nelly Shiraliyeva, a secretary from a former collective farm an hour's drive from Moscow, said she knew the Gorbachevs personally. She said that in 1987, she sent a letter begging for an apartment to the Central Committee headed at the time by Gorbachev. Two weeks later not only did she receive her apartment but the Central Committee secretary even handed her the key personally.

She said that under Gorbachev, "we all lived like kings."

The admiration of the Soviet first lady happened post-mortem. Although she was appreciated in the West, many Russians disliked her for her expensive clothes and her prominent public role. She was accused of everything from meddling in state affairs to supporting a much hated anti-alcohol campaign.

But this attitude changed after she was hospitalized with leukemia in July. Russian media gave large coverage to her illness and portrayed Mikhail Gorbachev as a stricken and devoted husband. Well-wishing letters and telegrams flowed in by the hundreds.