Page last updated at 15:03 GMT, Thursday, 17 July 2008 16:03 UK

Russians remember murdered tsar

A Russian holds an icon of Tsar Nicholas II and his family
The tsar and his family are now revered as Orthodox saints

Thousands of Russians have been taking part in events to commemorate the 90th anniversary of the assassination of Tsar Nicholas II and his family.

Russian Orthodox Christians held a service in Yekaterinburg, where the royal family were killed, and then followed an 18km (11-mile) procession.

Another service was taking place in the cathedral in St Petersburg where the bodies of the family now lie.

Russia's last emperor was shot dead by Bolshevik revolutionaries in 1918.

Nicholas, his wife Alexandra, their five children, doctor and three servants were killed on the night of 16-17 July, 1918.

The Romanov family have now been canonised as saints by the Orthodox Church, which has enjoyed a post-Soviet revival.

Renewed popularity

At dawn on Thursday, the faithful packed the Church on the Blood in Yekaterinburg in the Ural Mountains, on the site where the family were killed.

Bishops in red and gold robes wafted incense over the congregation, while many more stood on the surrounding hillside.

Then many of them, carrying icons and flags, joined a procession to Ganina-Yama, where the family's bodies were temporarily dumped in a mineshaft.

Other events were held across the country.

A short distance from what used to be Communist Party headquarters in Moscow, some even called for the restoration of the monarchy.

"I think that remembering the killing of the Tsar martyr gives us the chance to get rid of our scoundrel Bolshevik past," Mikhail Ustinov, dressed in the uniform of a Cossack, told the BBC.

The renewed popularity of the Romanovs is an astonishing transformation that mirrors the huge changes in Russia itself, says the BBC's James Rodgers in Moscow.

For most of the last century, Tsar Nicholas II was officially reviled as a tyrant. To Russia's Soviet regime, he personified all they had tried to destroy in the revolution of 1917.

Now, almost two decades after the end of the communist state which the Bolsheviks fought to create, the tsar is revered as a saint - a martyr who died for his faith.

Just before the 90th anniversary of his death, Nicholas II pulled into the lead in an online poll to decide on the greatest hero in Russian history.

It is perhaps a sign of the country's confusion over its own past, our correspondent says, that he is battling it out for top spot with the Soviet dictator, Josef Stalin.

In pictures: Imperial anniversary
17 Jul 08 |  In Pictures
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30 Apr 08 |  Europe
Lost Romanov bones 'identified'
28 Sep 07 |  Europe
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