President Vladimir Putin has joined hundreds of Russians in paying tribute to celebrated musician Mstislav Rostropovich, whose body is lying in state in Moscow's musical conservatory before Sunday's burial.
President Putin Saturday laid red roses on the coffin of the world-renowned conductor, cellist and Soviet-era dissident, who died on Friday after a prolonged battle with cancer. He was 80 years old.
Mr. Putin earlier described the death as "a terrible loss" for Russian culture.
Rostropovich is to be buried in Moscow's historic Novodevichy Cemetery near other prominent Russian cultural figures. His former teacher, composer Dmitry Shostakovich, and his late friend, President Boris Yeltsin, also are buried there.
Rostropovich was exiled from Russia during the late 1970s for defending dissident author and Nobel laureate Alexander Solzhenitsyn. His many acts of political defiance included helping Mr. Yeltsin in 1991 face down an attempted hard-line coup.
The musician left the Soviet Union with his family in 1974, and communist authorities later stripped him of his citizenship. Rostropovich served as the music director of Washington's National Symphony Orchestra from 1977 to 1994.
His citizenship was restored as the Soviet Union came to an end. President Putin earlier this year presented Rostropovich with a medal for extraordinary achievement in music. He also hosted a gala celebration at the Kremlin in honor of his 80th birthday last month.
Some information for this report provided by AFP and Reuters.