Georgia’s PM Found Dead, Gas Poisoning Suspected
The prime minister of ex-Soviet Georgia was found dead on Thursday in a bizarre gas poisoning that robs the inexperienced president, Mikhail Saakashvili, of a steadying hand to help run his turbulent country. Zurab Zhvania’s bodyguards found the 41-year-old slumped in an armchair near a gas heater at a friend’s apartment, said Interior Minister Vano Merabishvili. “This is a tragic accident … It was a gas poisoning,” he said.
Saakashvili called ministers to an emergency meeting to discuss the death of one of the few political heavyweights in a leadership catapulted to power by a popular uprising a year ago. Vice-premier Georgy Baramidze, a close ally of Zhvania’s, was likely to chair cabinet meetings until a new prime minister is named. But he is not thought to be in the frame for the job and there is no obvious successor.
“(Zhvania’s death) is a huge blow for our country and personally for me as a president and as a person,” a red-eyed Saakashvili told his ministers, many of them dressed in black, his own voice breaking with emotion. “I have lost my closest friend, my most loyal adviser, my biggest ally.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin, whose relations with Georgia’s leadership have often been fraught, sent his condolences, the Kremlin press service said.
Update: Rusty Shackleford has more extensive analysis.