After 73 years, Russians may grant this man his dying wish

Boris Yeltsin wants Russia to hold a public referendum to decide whether the embalmed body of Lenin should continue to lie in a mausoleum in Red Square, or whether the founder of the atheist Soviet state should have a Christian burial.

In remarks deliberately chosen to antagonise his Communist foes, the president made it clear where he stands on the issue by arguing that it is high time that the mummified remains of the Bolshevik revolutionary, who died 73 years ago, are removed from public view.

"Lenin must be buried," he told an audience in St Petersburg, home of the 1917 Bolshevik revolution. "Let's make it look Christian. The dead must be buried in the earth. His mother is buried here in St Petersburg. Lenin asked to be buried here in his will, but his wish was ignored ... it must be done in a gradual, civilised way without either bulldozers or excavators."

In Soviet times, millions used to visit Lenin's mausoleum in Moscow every year to peer admiringly through bullet-proofed glass at his wax-like body, which was kept at a carefully monitored temperature and annually re-embalmed. But his fortunes have since waned. In 1993, he lost his guard of honour; recently, visitors to his tomb have slowed to a trickle.

Mr Yeltsin, who called for a public ballot in the autumn, has taken up the touchy question of Lenin's fate several times before.

He does so knowing it will produce cries of horror from Russia's Duma (lower house parliament) whose large Communist contingent still revere the revolutionary leader.

When the issue surfaced earlier this year, there were furious protests in parliament which passed a resolution condemning any attempt to move the body from its red granite tomb as "an act of vandalism".

In particular, the president's latest remarks are intended to stoke the fires of his rolling conflict with the legislature, which he is trying to pressure into signing a new tax code. Amid veiled threats that he might dissolve the Duma altogether, Mr Yeltsin has given it three weeks to pass the code.

While the Kremlin and parliament wrangle, ordinary Russians appear divided over what to do with Vladimir Ilych Lenin, who died at the age of 54 after earlier suffering three strokes. A recent poll found that 38 per cent felt his body should be left alone, while 48 per cent wanted him to be buried in a cemetery.

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