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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Government Votes to Bury Tsar in St. Pete

Over the objections of the Russian Orthodox Church, the government made a "final decision" Friday to bury the remains of the last tsar and his family in St. Petersburg on July 17 -- 80 years to the day after they were shot.

The decision puts an end to a seven-year investigation that has involved extensive scientific analysis of the acid-burned bones and stirred heated debate in Russia and abroad.

The church's ruling body, the Holy Synod, on Thursday refused to recognize the remains as authentic and recommended that they be buried in a "symbolic memorial grave" until all doubts were removed.

But Friday the church said it would go along with the government's decision and take part in a religious burial in the Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul.

"The Holy Synod's decision was a moral [decision], and the government's was a legislative one," said Metropolitan Yuvenaly, a member of the Holy Synod and the government commission charged with deciding the fate of the remains. "It is difficult to satisfy everybody."

Nicholas II, his wife, Alexandra, their children and several servants were shot by a Bolshevik firing squad July 17, 1918, in the basement of the Ipatiev house in Yekaterinburg. Their bullet-ridden bodies were then doused in acid and buried.

The government commission ruled last month that the investigation had proved beyond doubt that the remains exhumed in 1991 were those of the imperial family. The commission recommended burial on July 17 in the imperial crypt of the Romanov tsars in St. Petersburg.

President Boris Yeltsin was to have the final say, but earlier this week he unexpectedly ordered his government to make the decision.

After a three-hour Cabinet meeting Friday, First Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov announced the decision at a packed news conference.

"President Yeltsin told us to reach a final decision," said Nemtsov, who also headed the commission. "This is the final decision of the government."

The commission had concluded in 1995 that the remains were authentic, but the Russian Orthodox Church insisted on further analysis. Experts from Russia, Britain and the United States carried out extensive DNA and other forensic tests.

Nemtsov said Friday that equipment used in the investigation was the most advanced available. It is the same equipment used for identifying soldiers killed in Chechnya. "The relatives take the bodies away believing them to be their sons," said Nemtsov.

For the church, the authenticity of the tsar's remains is more complicated. Many Orthodox believers already revere Nicholas as a saint, and the Russian Orthodox Church is considering the official canonization of the imperial family.

If the family is canonized, their remains would be considered holy relics, and the church says it must be sure they are authentic.

"If not, we will be worshipping false remains, which is unacceptable," Yuvenaly said Friday at an earlier news conference at the Danilovsky Monastery. "The church doesn't have the right to make mistakes."

Although the church supports immediate burial of the remains, Yuvenaly said the investigation could continue. He suggested further analysis of blood from the tsar's relatives.

The latest nationwide poll, conducted earlier this month, showed only about half of Russians believe the remains are those of the Romanovs, while nearly 30 percent doubt their authenticity, Nemtsov said. He gave no details of the poll.

Among the strongest doubters are some monarchists and conservative Orthodox Church activists, both in Russia and abroad.

Vladimir Bolshakov, a monarchist and vice president of the International Slavic Letters and Culture Fund, called Friday's decision "a tragedy for Russia and the Russian people."

He accused the commission of being made up of unqualified bureaucrats who had come to a decision too hastily.

"This will lead to tragedy one day," Bolshakov said in a telephone interview.

On the other side of the Atlantic, Peter Koltypin-Wallovsky, chairman of the Russian Expert Commission Abroad, based in Connecticut, called the decision "a sad day for a new Russia."

Koltypin-Wallovsky claims the bones are part of a fabricated case concocted by the Communist regime and perpetuated by Yeltsin's government.

"For some bogus reasons they decided to create these remains," he said. "They did not anticipate a commission of scholars abroad to bring out the truth."

Friday's decision puts an end to a long-standing rivalry over where the imperial family's remains should be buried. Eduard Rossel, governor of the region that includes Yekaterinburg, fought to have the bones interred in the Ural Mountains city. Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov also threw his hat into the ring, bidding for burial in the Russian capital.

St. Petersburg, however, was a tough location to beat. The cathedral has been the final resting place of Russia's tsars since Peter the Great.

Descendants of the Romanov dynasty and members of European royal families are expected to attend the burial.