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Samegrelo (Mengrelia)
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Zurab Zhvania (December 9, 1963 – February 3, 2005) was a prominent Georgian politician and former Speaker of the Georgian Parliament. From November 25, 2003 to February 18, 2004 he was Minister without Portfolio. He was the Prime Minister of Georgia from February 18, 2004 until his death. Zhvania had a wife and three children, and in addition to his native Georgian, he spoke English, German, and Russian.

Early career

Zhvania was born in Tbilisi. In 1985 he graduated from the Faculty of Biology of the Tbilisi Ivane Javakhishvili State University. He worked at the university through 1992. Zhvania entered national politics in 1988. Between 1988 and 1990, Georgia's Green Party, which Zhvania co-chaired, was one of a number of opposition groups that took part in the country's drive to regain its independence. In September 1991 his party joined the opposition to the government of the first post-Soviet President of Georgia, Zviad Gamsakhurdia. Gamsakhurdia's violent overthrow in January 1992 resulted in Eduard Shevardnadze, the former Soviet foreign minister, coming to power a few months later.

Shevardnadze established the Union of Citizens of Georgia to provide a moderate centre-right grouping for reformist democrats. Zhvania joined the UGC in 1992, entering the Georgian parliament in the same year, and recruited other reformists to the party, notably Mikheil Saakashvili. In 1993, Zhvania became general secretary of Shevardnadze's party. On November 25, 1995, after the party’s victory at the election, he was elected as chairman of the Georgian parliament.

However, Zhvania fell out with Shevardnadze over a corruption scandal and resigned as speaker on November 1, 2001. He and Saakashvili also left Shevardnadze's party. In 2002, he established and chaired a new party, called the United Democrats.

November elections

The parliamentary elections of November 2, 2003 were widely condemned by local and international observers as being grossly rigged by the government. In response, Zhvania and other opposition figures called for mass protests against Shevardnadze. Two weeks of massive popular protests followed, forcing Shevardnadze's resignation on November 23. He was replaced on an interim basis by Zhvania's successor as parliamentary speaker, Nino Burjanadze. Zhvania himself became a minister in the transitional government prior to fresh presidential elections held on January 4, 2004, which were won by Saakashvili.

Prime Minister

Death

Circumstances

Zhvania died early in the morning of February 3, 2005 from what officials claimed was carbon monoxide poisoning, due to an inadequately ventilated gas heater. He was in a rented apartment with Raul Usupov, deputy governor of Georgia's Kvemo Kartli region, at the time. Usupov also died.

Guards entered the house after there was no word from Zhvania for several hours to find him in an armchair and Usupov in the kitchen. Details of the incident are still limited, although officials have said there was a gas-powered heating stove in the main room of the house, where a table was set up with a backgammon set lying open upon it.

Immediately after the incident, live on Rustavi-2 television, Georgia's Interior Minister Vano Merabishvili said there was no reason to suspect foul play. Bodies were taken to the coroner's office, where a preliminary examination showed both died from carbon monoxide poisoning. There were reports of serious technical violations when the gas heaters were installed, with officials saying there was no ventilation in the apartment.

However, Zhvania's family members have questioned the official version of the death, with Goga Zhvania having said that he was sure that his brother was assassinated. In March 2006 interview with the Washington Post Georgia's ex-president Eduard Shevardnadze also said that he believed Zhvania was murdered.

In 2007, Irakly Okruashvili, former minister of defense of Georgia, claimed that Zhvania's corpse had been taken to the apartment where he was found dead (officially he died of accidental poisoning with carbon monoxide).

Aftermath

President Mikheil Saakashvili, at an emergency Cabinet meeting, said, "In Zurab Zhvania, Georgia has lost a great patriot, who devoted his entire life to serving the motherland. Zurab's death is a great blow to Georgia and to me personally. I lost a very close friend, a reliable adviser and a great ally. I want to call on you all to be strong, because there is no greater responsibility than loyal service to our country and our people."

 
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