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Georgians Bid Zhvania Farewell

TBILISI, Georgia -- Georgians bid farewell Sunday to the late Prime Minister Zurab Zhvania amid worries about the future of their struggling country and doubts over the official explanation of his death.

Mourners by the thousands came to the capital's Holy Trinity Cathedral and filed slowly past Zhvania's coffin, which was covered with the Georgian national flag, as priests sang a requiem. At the cathedral, President Mikheil Saakashvili told mourners that Zhvania had helped defy those who doubted Georgia could survive the pressures it has faced, and that his death presents a challenge.

"Georgia has come into its own as a state. We have all made this happen, in large part thanks to the efforts of Zurab Zhvania," Saakashvili said.

Zhvania, 41, was found dead early Thursday in the apartment of a friend who also died; both deaths officially have been attributed to carbon monoxide poisoning due to faulty ventilation of a gas space heater. Although such deaths are not uncommon in Georgia, where central heating systems went out of service a decade ago amid the country's post-Soviet deterioration, many Georgians resist the official explanation.

"There's a lot about this that isn't understandable," said one of the mourners, retired miner Mamanti Dzhakhaia. He noted that Zhvania and his friend were found dead sitting in chairs, whereas carbon monoxide victims usually succumb while sleeping. He also questioned whether Zhvania's security guards were lax. Official reports say the guards broke into the apartment only after being unable to reach Zhvania by cellphone for a long period, perhaps hours.

Although Georgian officials have repeatedly dismissed the possibility of foul play, they also have asked for help from the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation in analyzing blood samples to determine Zhvania's cause of death.

Russia sent Transportation Minister Igor Levitin to the funeral.

Zhvania's death followed a Tuesday car bombing that killed three policemen in Gori, a town close to South Ossetia, prompting speculation that both incidents were aimed at derailing negotiations with the separatist region.

One Georgian lawmaker said both events were the work "of certain outside forces," an apparent reference to Russia. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov sharply rejected the assertion.

Georgy Khelashvili, a member of the Georgian presidential clemency commission, committed suicide, police said Saturday. Officials denied any political connection between Khelashvili, 32, and Zhvania.

Khelashvili was found dead at his home Friday night of a gunshot wound from a hunting rifle borrowed from a neighbor, Tbilisi police official Irakli Pirkhalala said. He left a note asking for forgiveness, Pirkhalala said, but did not give further details of the note's contents.

(The Moscow Times 07.ii.05)

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