Thursday, February 03, 2005

It's eerie to realize that the Georgian prime minister Zurab Zhvania has died on the day Yulia Tymoshenko is supposed to be approved as the prime minister of Ukraine, especially considering we have our own Zhvania - David - in what used to be the Ukrainian opposition until very recently. Unlike the two planes leaving the same airport and then falling from the sky almost simultaneously back in August, this is probably just a twist of fate. (That the planes crashed on August 24, Ukraine's Independence Day, is also nothing but a coincidence.)

Here's an AP report on Zhvania's death:

Apparent Gas Leak Kills Georgian Premier
By the Associated Press

Published: February 3, 2005
Filed at 2:21 a.m. ET

TBILISI, Georgia (AP) -- Georgian Prime Minister Zurab Zhvania, who helped lead the revolution that toppled the corruption-tainted regime of Eduard Shevardnadze, was killed early Thursday by an apparent natural gas leak, the ex-Soviet republic's interior minister said.

Zhvania, 41, was at a friend's apartment when the leak occurred, Interior Minister Vano Merabishvili said in a live broadcast on Rustavi-2 television.

"It is an accident," Merabishvili said. "We can say that poisoning by gas took place."

Security guards broke through a window early Thursday when they heard no signs of life inside several hours after the prime minister arrived, Merabishvili said. Zhvania had entered the apartment at about midnight and the guards broke in between 4 a.m. and 4:30 a.m.

His host, Raul Usupov, deputy governor of Georgia's Kvemo-Kartli region, also died.

An Iranian-made gas-powered heating stove was in the main room of the mezzanine-floor apartment, where a table was set up with a backgammon set lying open. Zhvania was in a chair; Usupov's body was found in the kitchen.

"It all happened suddenly," Merabishvili said.

Central heating is scarce in Georgia and many people use gas or wood stoves in their homes.

A longtime politician, Zhvania was part of the opposition to former Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze and played a prominent role in protests that led to Shevardnadze's ouster after allegedly fraudulent elections in November 2003.

President Mikhail Saakashvili, who led the protests, named Zhvania prime minister following his landslide election in January 2004. Zhvania was considered a moderate to counterbalance to the more impetuous president, and he was one of the key government figures trying to negotiate settlements with Georgia's separatist regions.

Zhvania was born in the capital Tbilisi on Dec. 9, 1963. A graduate of the biology department at Tbilisi State University, he led the Green of Georgia party in 1988-93 and served in the parliament beginning in 1992.

He became parliamentary speaker in 1995 and led the moderate United Democrats opposition party, and for several years he and Saakashvili were rivals for leadership of the opposition.

Like Saakashvili, Zhvania was a one-time ally of Shevardnadze. After breaking with Shevardnadze, however, Zhvania followed a more conciliatory path than Saakashvili, and he was considered a more moderate politician who sought consensus rather than conflict.

Zhvania is survived by his wife and three children.

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