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Russia Bids Farewell To Ambassador Shot Dead In Ankara


The mother of Andrei Karlov, the slain Russian ambassador to Turkey, cries next to his open coffin during a funeral ceremony at the Christ the Savior Cathedral in Moscow on December 22.

The Russian ambassador who was assassinated in Turkey this week got a hero's funeral in his home country, with President Vladimir Putin placing flowers by his coffin and the head of the Russian Orthodox Church saying his memory would live forever.

High-level officials filed past the open coffin containing Andrei Karlov's body at a ceremony at the Russian Foreign Ministry in Moscow that was later opened to the public.

President Vladimir Putin placed flowers by the coffin and spoke to Karlov's relatives. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov gave family members the Hero of Russia medal that Putin posthumously granted Karlov a day earlier.

"Andrei always loved life, loved his work, and was devoted to it," Lavrov said. "Without exaggeration, it was the center of his life, along with his family."

The career diplomat was shot dead while speaking at a photography exhibition in Ankara on December 19 by an attacker who shouted, "Don't forget Aleppo!" and other words that seemed to refer to Russia's involvement in the Syrian civil war.

Turkish authorities say Karlov's killer was Mevlut Mert Altintas, a 22-year-old policeman who was off duty at the time.

Before burial, Karlov's body was taken to Christ the Savior Cathedral near the Kremlin, where Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill led a funeral service.

Karlov "will go down in the history of our fatherland as an ambassador who died at his combat post," Kirill said, using military terminology evoking the Soviet era. "He will be a forever a hero in the history of our people."

Later in the day, Karlov was buried with military honors at a cemetery on Moscow's northern outskirts, his coffin draped in the Russian flag.

Karlov was a diplomat in North and South Korea during the 1990s and 2000s and was sent to Turkey in 2013.

Russian and Turkish officials have both said publicly that the killing was an attempt to harm relations between the two countries, which have improved substantially after being badly strained when Turkish jets shot down a Russian warplane along the Turkey-Syria border in November 2015.

Russia and Turkey have supported opposing sides in the Syrian civil war, with Moscow backing President Bashar al-Assad's forces and Turkey backing rebels seeking his ouster.

But Moscow and Ankara brokered a cease-fire that has allowed for evacuations of civilians from the eastern part of the city of Aleppo, where government forces have seized most of the territory held by the rebels since 2012 in a devastating offensive aided by Russia and Iran.

War Crimes Accusations

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on December 15 accused Assad of committing "nothing short of a massacre" in Aleppo and that "the killing and suffering in Syria could stop...very, very quickly if Russia and the [Syrian] regime made the decision to do so.”

Also last week, four Syrian organizations accused Russia of involvement in war crimes in Syria, claiming that Russian air strikes in the Aleppo area have killed some 1,207 civilians.

Along with Iran, Russia and Turkey now say they are seeking a broader truce and a peace deal for Syria -- though that has been met with skepticism in the United States, which leads a coalition targeting Islamic State (IS) militants in Syria and has accused Russia of failing to deliver on previous cease-fire agreements.

Putin has said that Karlov's killing was "obviously a provocation designed to derail the normalization of Russian-Turkish relations and to derail the peace process in Syria that is being actively promoted by Russia, Turkey, Iran, and other countries."

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has also said it was aimed at undermining the improvement of ties between Turkey and Russia.

Erdogan and other Turkish officials have alleged that Fethullah Gulen, a Turkish Muslim cleric who lives in the U.S. state of Pennsylvania, was behind the Russian ambassador's killing.

Turkey has demanded the United States extradite Gulen, whom Erdogan also blames for an attempted coup against him in July, but the United States has said that Turkey must present compelling evidence implicating him.

Gulen has strongly condemned Karlov's killing and denied involvement.

In a video address made available to the Associated Press, Gulen accused the Turkish government of blaming and defaming his movement and suggested the government would facilitate other assassinations and blame them on his followers.

Gulen said that "it is not possible for them to convince the world of such accusations."

Meanwhile, CNN Turk television reported on December 22 that Turkish authorities have released relatives of Altintas who had been detained after the killing.

The Reuters news agency cited Turkish security sources as saying earlier this week that authorities had detained the police officer's mother, father, sister, and two other relatives for questioning.

With reporting by RIA and TASS
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