Thousands of mourners have paid a last homage to slain Russian opposition leader Boris Nemtsov, who was gunned down near the Kremlin in the most stunning assassination of Vladimir Putin’s rule.
Crowds thronged the Russian capital to mourn the 55-year-old former deputy prime minister, a long-time Putin critic and anti-corruption crusader who was laid to rest at a Moscow cemetery.
The funeral caused a fresh spat between Russia and the European Union, which condemned what it called “arbitrary” bans after Russia blocked prominent figures from Poland and Latvia from attending.
Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny was also unable to attend as he is behind bars, but speaking from jail he accused “the country’s political leadership” of ordering a hit on Nemtsov.
Putin himself has branded the killing a provocation and his spokesman said of Navalny’s charge: “I am not going to comment on such lunacy.”
Moscow has pledged a full investigation as speculation swirls about who was behind the assassination.
Clutching flowers and candles, mourners formed a huge queue outside the Andrei Sakharov rights centre in central Moscow where Nemtsov’s body lay in state.
As Bach’s St Matthew Passion played, well-wishers filed past the flower-covered coffin, many crossing themselves and weeping.
Nemtsov’s mother Dina Eidman, who turned 87 on Tuesday, his children, widow, and former partners and friends stood by the casket.
Ordinary Russians were joined by government officials and dignitaries including Deputy Prime Minister Arkady Dvorkovich, former president Boris Yeltsin’s widow Naina and former finance minister Alexei Kudrin.
Ex British prime minister John Major and Lithuania’s Foreign Minister Linas Linkevicius were among foreign dignitaries to attend.
Putin, who was hosting the authoritarian leader of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko, did not attend the funeral at Moscow’s prestigious Troekurovskoe cemetery.
Many mourners blame Putin for the murder, saying the Kremlin – locked in a bitter confrontation with the West over the Ukraine conflict – whipped up hatred against dissenters.