World News

No peace in death for Georgian post-Soviet leader

Manana Archvadze (R), the widow of Georgia's first President Zviad Gamsakhurdia, talks about exhuming the remains of her husband to protest against the arrest of her son Tsotne, in Tbilisi February 17, 2010. The widow of Gamsakhurdia tried to dig him up on Wednesday and re-bury him for the fifth time since his death in 1993 REUTERS/Irakli Gedenidze

TBILISI (Reuters) - The widow of Georgia’s first post-Soviet president tried to dig him up on Wednesday and re-bury him for the fifth time since his death in 1993, but she was stopped from doing so by police.

Zviad Gamsakhurdia in death has stirred almost as much controversy as alive, buried four times since he died of a single bullet to the head after a failed bid to reverse his ousting in Georgia’s turbulent first years of independence.

On Wednesday, Gamsakhurdia’s widow Manana and supporters began digging up the coffin at Tbilisi’s Mtatsminda Pantheon -- where the nationalist and anti-Soviet dissident lies alongside other prominent Georgians.

Georgian media quoted his widow as saying she wanted to protest against the imprisonment of her son Tsotne on charges of espionage. She also wanted to re-bury Gamsakhurdia at the residence of his late father, writer Konstantin Gamsakhurdia.

Police surrounded the burial plot and began shovelling the earth back in before the crowd dispersed.

Gamsakhurdia was first buried in western Georgia, but then reburied in the southern Russian region of Chechnya when his widow moved there. That grave was later found empty, before his remains were found in the Chechen capital in March 2007.

Pro-Western Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili instigated the return of Gamsakhurdia’s remains in April 2007.

He is officially said to have committed suicide, but some family members and diehard supporters say he was murdered.

Some revere him as the man who led Georgia to independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, but his detractors say his brief rule fanned nationalism and plunged Georgia into civil war.

Reporting by Margarita Antidze; Writing by Matt Robinson; Editing by Elizabeth Fullerton