President Saakashvili announced, following the death of Prime Minister Zurab Zhvania on February 3, that he will assume the Prime Minister’s responsibilities, before he nominates a new candidate for this position, within the next seven days. He said that the government “fully controls the situation” and called the government to perform duties “in a usual regime.”
“I, as the President of Georgia, will assume the leadership of the executive authorities. I instruct the members of the government to return to their work places and work in a usual regime. I, as the Commander in Chief, instruct the law enforcement agencies and the army to continue performing their functions,” the President said after visiting the newly built Holly Trinity Cathedral in Tbilisi on February 3.
“It is very important to maintain order and discipline in the country. I want to warn everybody that all those who violate order and discipline will be answerable before the law. We fully control the situation, we are a strong state, we are strong nation and we will manage to settle the problems,” President Saakashvili added.
Georgian Prime Minister Zurab Zhvania was found dead, apparently, by carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning that resulted from the faulty operation of the gas heater, in his friend’s apartment in Tbilisi on early hours of February 3.
“We know that Zurab Zhvania came to his friend’s apartment approximately at midnight on February 2. As Zurab Zhvania was not responding to his mobile phone and no one was opening the door for a long period, his bodyguard broke through the window at approximately 4:30 am [local time]. He [the bodyguard] found the dead bodies of Zurab Zhvania and his friend in the apartment. It was a misfortune. We can say that it was gas poisoning. An Iranian-made gas-powered heating device was installed in the apartment,” Vano Merabishvili said.
He said that Zhvania’s friend, whom the Prime Minister was visiting, was Deputy Governor of Kvemo Kartli Region Raul Usupov. Merabishvili also said that Zurab Zhvania was found dead sitting on the armchair, while his friend died in the kitchen.
Deputy Justice Minister Levan Samkharauli said that according to the preliminary forensic results, the contents of carboxihemoglobin in the blood of Zurab Zhvania amounted to 40%. This is double the minimum fatal concentration.
Deputy Prosecutor General Giorgi Janashia said that the heating system used at the residence where Zhvania died did not properly circulate air and that a build-up of carbon monoxide within the house resulted in the asphyxiation of Zhvania and Deputy Governor of Shida Kartli region Raul Usupov.
According to the Georgian Constitution, in case of resignation or death of the Prime Minister the President should nominate a new candidate for the Prime Minister’s position within seven days.
Early on Thursday, President Saakashvili that death of Zurab Zhvania “is a blow” him and for the country.” “Georgia lost a great patriot, who devoted his whole life to serving our country,” he added.
Letters of condolences started arriving in the Georgian President’s administration from foreign capitals shortly after the news about Zhvania’s death broke early on February 3.
Russian news agencies reported that Russian President Vladimir Putin sent a letter of condolences to Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili regarding the death of Zurab Zhvania.
In a letter of condolence sent to the Georgian President the U.S. Ambassador in Georgia Richard Miles said that Zhvania was a “courageous and wonderful man.”
Javier Solana , the EU High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy, said "Zurab Zhvania was a very experienced politician who played a pivotal role in consolidating the political life in Georgia and placing the country on the road to democracy."
The OSCE Permanent Council session held a minute's silence. "Prime Minister Zhvania was an important figure who played a leading role in the transformation of Georgia and its development towards greater democracy and economic reform," the Chairman of the Permanent Council, Slovenian Ambassador Janez Lenarcic said.
"I am shocked and saddened by the sudden death of Zurab Zhvania," Terry Davis, Secretary General of the Council of Europe, said. "Zhvania, whom I knew personally, was a committed democrat who made a tremendous contribution to reforms in Georgia,” he added.
Tskhinvali, Sokhumi Reaction
Authorities in Georgia’s breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia have also commented regarding the death of Zhvania.
President of the unrecognized Republic of South Ossetia Eduard Kokoev expressed sorrow and said that “Zhvania played a great role” in peaceful resolution of the South Ossetian conflict, the Press and Information Committee of breakaway South Ossetia reported on February 3.
President-elect of breakaway Abkhazia Sergey Bagapsh has also expressed his condolences and said “Zhvania’s death will not influence” relations between Tbilisi and Sokhumi.
“The conflict settlement process will continue in the manner as it has been developing. The death of the Georgian Prime Minister will not and can not have an impact on our [Tbilisi-Sokhumi] relations,” Russian news agency RIA Novosti reported quoting Bagapsh as saying.
Zhvania's Political Background
Zhvania, who turned 41 last December, had been the Prime Minister of Georgia since February 2004. He entered Georgian politics in the late 80s, when he chaired the Green Party. When Eduard Shevardnadze took over power in Georgia in 1992, Zurab Zhvania became one of his closest allies and a leading figure in ruling party of the time, the Citizens Union of Georgia, and eventually took over the Parliamentary Chairmanship in 1995.
In the late 90s Zhvania began distancing himself from Shevardnadze and eventually resigned from the Parliamentary Chairman’s position in November, 2001. Shortly after his resignation he established a new political party, the United Democrats. Nino Burjanadze, who was elected as Parliamentary Chairperson after Zhvania’s resignation, later jointed Zhvania’s party.
Zurab Zhvania and Mikheil Saakashvili became close political allies after fraudulent November 2, 2003 parliamentary elections. After the Rose Revolution Zurab Zhvania became a State Minister and after February, 2004 constitutional amendments Zhvania was appointed by Saakashvili as the Prime Minister.
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