MOSCOW (Reuters) - Vandals defaced one of Russia's few monuments to its first post-Soviet president Boris Yeltsin on Friday, covering it with blue paint and chipping the letters of his name on the pedestal, police in his home region in the Ural Mountains said.
Yeltsin gained popularity by challenging the Soviet Union's Communist bosses with calls for faster reform, but he is reviled by many Russians who accuse him of hastening the Soviet collapse and have dark memories of his rule in the chaotic 1990s.
The monument, a tall stone slab with a carved relief of a stern-faced Yeltsin, was unveiled in the Sverdlovsk regional capital of Yekaterinburg 18 months ago by then-president Dmitry Medvedev.
State television showed workers hosing the paint off the monument from a cherry picker after the pre-dawn attack, whose culprits face up to three months in jail if found.
"We are deeply outraged by this act of vandalism," Vadim Naumenko of the Boris Yeltsin Presidential Center told RIA news agency, urging city authorities to ensure it is not repeated.
"Dialogue and dispute should be conducted in a civilized manner, otherwise we will move from rebellion to rebellion in Russia, from revolution to revolution," Naumenko said.
Yeltsin was elected president of Russia in June 1991, when it was still part of the Soviet Union, and emerged as the undisputed leader of a new Russia after he stared down the tanks of a hardline communist coup attempt that August.
Mikhail Gorbachev resigned as president of the Soviet Union in December 1991, sealing its break-up.
Yeltsin was re-elected in 1996 and stepped down in 1999, making Vladimir Putin Russia's acting president after nine years in power marred by economic hardship, war in Chechnya and a decline in Moscow's global clout.
Yeltsin, who suffered health problems and bouts of public drunkenness, died in 2007 at the age of 76. Putin was elected president in 2000 and 2004, and again in March of this year after four years as prime minister.
(Reporting by Gabriela Baczynska; Editing by Steve Gutterman and Mark Heinrich)