MOSCOW, April 23 (UPI) -- Former Russian President Boris Yeltsin, who faced down army tanks during the fall of the Soviet Union, died of cardiac arrest Monday at the age of 76.
Born Feb. 1, 1931, Boris Nikolayevich Yeltsin was a gruff, colorful, hard-drinking communist who became Russia's president in July 1991 and led the fledging democracy through the first phase of its transition to a free-market economy. The former Moscow boss became Russia's first popularly elected president five years later. He had quit the Communist Party in 1990.
The Russian information agency Novosti said the former leader died of heart failure.
In August 1991, it was Yeltsin who denounced the coup by hard-liners against former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev. He called for a general strike by the people of Moscow and led thousands in demonstrations against the military takeover.
Yeltsin stood atop a tank sent to block the street protests, ended the coup and restored his former political rival to power. However, in 1993 Yeltsin turned from folk hero to tyrant ordering troops to remove defiant lawmakers that opposed his economic reforms and had barricaded themselves inside the parliament building. In December 1994 he ordered the Russian invasion of the breakaway republic of Chechnya.
Yeltsin warmed relations with the United States and in January 1993 joined President George H.W. Bush to sign the second Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty in Moscow, reducing the threat of nuclear war.