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Friday, 31 December, 1999, 16:01 GMT
World leaders pay tribute to Yeltsin

Boris Yeltsin World leaders have praised Mr Yeltsin's democratic reforms

Foreign governments, caught by surprise by Russian President Boris Yeltsin's resignation announcement, have praised the ailing leader for dismantling the country's communist system and putting a democratic structure in place.

Yeltsin resigns
Most also expressed hope that a new leader may improve Russia's strained relations with the West. Many, however, showed little regret that the president had decided to quit the world stage.

Boris Yeltsin played a crucial role in the history of Russia
Tony Blair, UK prime minister
US President Bill Clinton paid tribute to Mr Yeltsin for putting advancing a democratic system. "We have had our differences, such as on Chechnya, but President Yeltsin and my starting point has always been how Russia and the United States could work together to advance common interests," Mr Clinton said in a statement.

UK praise

UK Prime Minister Tony Blair said the world was "more stable and secure" as a result of Mr Yeltsin's leadership.

It would have been better if he had done it a year-and-a-half ago
Mikhail Gorbachev, former Soviet leader
"Boris Yeltsin has played a crucial role in the history of Russia," he said.

"He has steered his country through a most difficult and painful transition from communism to democracy ... . We now look forward to the presidential elections when the Russian people will decide on Boris Yeltsin's successor and take a further step towards embedding the democratic process."

In Berlin, German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder said Mr Yeltsin had led Russia out of its Soviet past and determined the development of the country on the road to democracy and the market economy.

France urges return to peace

"He proved to be a reliable partner and friend in years that were decisive for our country," the German chancellor said.

French President Jacques Chirac confined his comments to acting president Vladimir Putin, calling on him "to work for a return to peace".

Sending him "all [his] congratulations", Mr Chirac said: "I am convinced in this period of transition that is so important for the Russian people that [Vladimir Putin] will be able to act in favour of a return to peace, to the deepening of democracy and the pursuit of indispensable reforms."

Coming in from the cold

It is important that Russia continues its reform process as a European state
Tarja Halonen, Finnish foreign minister
Former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev reacted to the news by saying that his former rival should have quit sooner.

"It would have been better if he had done it a year-and-a-half or two years ago, or in 1996," Mr Gorbachev told Agence France Presse news agency by phone from a restaurant in Paris.

Finland, which holds the European Union Presidency until midnight on Friday, said Mr Yeltsin had help end the isolation of Russia that had continued for decades.

Japan expresses regret

Speaking on behalf of the EU, Finnish Foreign Minister Tarja Halonen said: "Russia committed itself to new values, which opened up opportunities for a new kind of international cooperation," a statement said.

"It is important that Russia continues its reform process as a European state. This, in turn, will improve the opportunities for an enhanced and deepened cooperation between the European Union and Russia."

In Japan, Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi expressed his regret that the ailing leader had stepped down, saying that Mr Yeltsin had helped improve relations between the two countries.

"I hope that Yeltsin's successor will continue the current reforms in politics and the economy," he said, adding that Mr Putin struck him as "a fearless and aggressive leader."

The former Soviet republics joined in the praise for Mr Yeltsin's reforms.

In Ukraine, the second-biggest Slav republic in the former Soviet Union after Russia, a spokesman for the President Leonid Kuchma described Mr Yeltsin's decision as "a courageous and logical step by a man who cares about the future of his country and all Russians."

Belarus, which has just signed a union treaty with Russia, lauded Yeltsin's reform efforts, but was more cautious.

A senior aide to President Alexander Lukashenko hoped Putin would pursue the union treaty signed by the two countries last month calling for a long-term merger.

"Yeltsin was guided not by personal interests but by those of the Russian state and people," Ivan Pashkevich, Lukashenko's deputy chief of staff, told Reuters news agency.

Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze, who as Soviet Foreign Minister was one of the chief proponents of President Mikhail Gorbachev's perestroika reforms, hailed Yeltsin as an historic personality.

"He has made a unique contribution to the democratic transformation and development of Russia," he said.

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See also:
31 Dec 99 |  Europe
Analysis: Shrewd move by Yeltsin
31 Dec 99 |  Monitoring
Yeltsin's resignation speech
20 Dec 99 |  Europe
Vladimir Putin: Spy turned politician
31 Dec 99 |  Business
Yeltsin's economic legacy
31 Dec 99 |  UK Politics
Blair praises Yeltsin's leadership
22 Dec 99 |  Europe
Russia's leaders: The race for the Kremlin
31 Dec 99 |  Europe
Boris Yeltsin: Master of surprise
31 Dec 99 |  Europe
Yeltsin: Flawed founder of Russian democracy

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