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Fate of Lenin's tomb to be put to referendum

The fate of one of the Soviet Union's most famous symbols - Lenin's tomb - should be put to Russia voters in a referendum, a top Kremlin official said in an interview published yesterday.

The comments by Vladimir Kozhin, one of the Kremlin's top administrators in charge of its property portfolio including Red Square, reflect the on-again, off-again debate among Russian officials about what to do with the Red Square mausoleum. The statement appears to show the Kremlin's reluctance to take up the sensitive issue before December's parliamentary elections and a presidential vote next March.

„Of course, a necropolis in the center of the capital is nonsense. But whether it should be there or not, let other decide,” Kozhin was quoted as telling the official newspaper Rossiskaya Gazeta. „We have only just moved away from revolutions, from turbulent political battles, the country wants to live normally, to work, to be rich,” Kozhin said. „But just touch a painful subject and war will come to the entire country, rousing our parents, grandmothers, grandfathers...,” he told the newspaper.

Kozhin also said the upkeep of the tomb, as well as regular treatments for the wax-like body inside, costs the government „several tens of millions of rubles (hundreds of thousands of dollars) a year - this isn't much at all.” Russian President Vladimir Putin's predecessor, Boris Yeltsin, repeatedly tried to get the hulking, red granite structure moved from the shadow of the Kremlin walls and bury Lenin - perhaps according to his wish to be buried next to his mother in St. Petersburg. But Communists, for whom the mausoleum is nearly a holy shrine, vowed to galvanize protests.

Putin, for his part, said in 2001 that he opposed the removal of Lenin's body because it might disturb civil peace. Meanwhile, he has resurrected several other Soviet symbols - including the Red Star for the military and the Soviet national anthem - albeit with different words. Underscoring the Putin government's ambivalence about the mausoleum was the decision to cover it in staging and bunting during ceremonies marking the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II in 2005 so as not to embarrass Western leaders.

Lenin's body has been on display in the mausoleum since 1924. Lenin led the Bolshevik revolution in November 1917 which cemented Communist governance in Russia and the Soviet Union for the next 74 years. Doctors embalmed Lenin's body days after he died in 1924 and laid him out in a mausoleum in Red Square. Lines of waiting tourists - both domestic and foreign - stretch around the Kremlin's walls as they wait to file past his body for the few minutes the guards allow. (People)