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Friday, July 17, 1998 Published at 14:50 GMT 15:50 UK

World: Europe

A controversial ceremony

The burial of Russia's royal family failed to unify the population

The burial of Russia's last Tsar and his family was a solemn yet stately national occasion, but the issue has continued to cause deep divisions in Russian society.

Our Russian affairs specialist Malcolm Haslett says President Boris Yeltsin's last-minute decision to attend may have given the burial greater legitimacy but many Russians remain sceptical about the authenticity of the last Tsar's remains.

According to the Russian Public Opinion Research Centre, only 47% of Russian people believe that the remains are those of the royal family.

Dr Peter Gill: "I'm 99.9% sure"
But, Dr Peter Gill, who led the team of British forensic scientists involved in identifying the Romanov remains back in 1993, told the BBC he was certain of the identity of those buried today.

He said that among the techniques used, one of those - mytochondrial DNA analysis - was the most important.

He said: "This particular technique we can use to look at the DNA profiles across many generations. So we were able to demonstrate that the DNA profile from the Tsarina and her children was the same as Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh."

[ image: Ceremony was scaled down from planned state occasion]
Ceremony was scaled down from planned state occasion
Despite what foreign and Russian scientists describe as overwhelming evidence, Russian Orthodox Church leaders neither accept the authenticity of the remains buried at St Peter and Paul Cathedral.

Our correspondent says the decision by the Patriarch of Moscow, Alexi II, to deliberately avoid the ceremony in St Petersburg and conduct a separate service near Moscow was a sign of the deep divisions among Russian people.

There has been strong opposition to the funeral also from Russian communists, who feel that it has been used for ideological reasons, to show up the negative sides of the communist regime that ruled Russia for over 70 years since the last Tsar's death.

[ image: Row over burial ground]
Row over burial ground
And there have been squabbles over whether St Petersburg was the right place to bury the Tsar, rather than Yekaterinburg, where he and his family were killed.

Nevertheless, our correspondent says the funeral has struck a chord with many Russians.

He says: "Most may not feel Nicholas was a particularly good ruler and that his regime deserved to be swept away. But equally they feel it was wrong that he and his family were killed in such brutal circumstances.

"Many agree with Boris Yeltsin, what's more, that the killing of the Tsar, his wife and children inaugurated the terrible periods of mass killings which followed, when it was considered that any cruelty was permitted, if done in the name of a political cause."

Some now argue that in order to complete the process of forgiving and forgetting, the man who replaced the Tsar, Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, should now be taken from his mausoleum and reburied - with due pomp and decorum.

That, however, our correspondent says, might well only deepen present divisions further.

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