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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

World Leaders Pay Tribute To Yeltsin

NEW YORK -- World leaders praised Boris Yeltsin as a courageous fighter during the dramatic fall of the Soviet Union, and they recalled his colorful, if sometimes bizarre, personality.

Former U.S. President Bill Clinton, who was Yeltsin's counterpart for much of the 1990s, said Yeltsin believed that democracy was the only way to restore Russia's position of greatness in the post-communist era, working tirelessly toward that goal to the detriment of his own health.

"Fate gave him a tough time in which to govern, but history will be kind to him because he was courageous and steadfast on the big issues peace, freedom, and progress," Clinton said Monday in a statement with his wife, U.S. Senator Hillary Clinton.

U.S. President George W. Bush called Yeltsin a "historic figure who served his country during a period of momentous change."

Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Aso expressed condolences on behalf of the government and the Japanese people.

In a statement released Tuesday, Aso said Yeltsin "made substantial efforts at promoting reform policies in new Russia and laid a new foundation for advancing Japan-Russia relations, including efforts at resolving a territorial issue," a reference to competing claims over the Kuril Islands.

Others hailed Yeltsin as a healer of the Cold War divide, opening up Russia to the rest of Europe.

Yeltsin "will be remembered for the critical role he played in advancing political and economic reforms in Russia, as well as in fostering rapprochement between East and West," UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said through a spokeswoman.

Many leaders said Yeltsin would be best remembered as standing on a tank outside the parliament building, defying a coup aimed at restoring a dictatorial regime in Russia. Others praised the difficult path he followed in acknowledging the independence of former Soviet republics.

"It's largely thanks to Yeltsin that we got free without bloodshed," Estonian lawmaker Peeter Tulviste told the Baltic News Service.

Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher said that without Yeltsin, "Russia would have remained in the grip of communism, and the Baltic states would not be free. He deserves to be honored as a patriot and liberator."

Nobel Peace Prize laureate and former Polish President Lech Walesa said it was Yeltsin, not Gorbachev, who was the driving force that ultimately led to the dismantling of the Soviet Union.

"If he hadn't done that, all the processes across the world of that sort would have come to a halt and been drawn back, and so the great service of Yeltsin is what we have today -- a free world, the era based on knowledge, the Internet, globalization. And so we bow our heads in his memory," said Walesa.

Yeltsin's personality could be as strong as his actions, leaders remembered.

"He could be moody and introspective, but once he was a friend, he was a friend for life," former British Prime Minister John Major told the BBC. "I think his tremendous work in terms of instilling democracy is what will stand out when people have forgotten the economic difficulties, and forgotten the miscellaneous matters about whether he drank too much."