A troubling question mark hangs over Georgia’s future as the country buries its Prime Minister. Zurab Zhvania died on Thursday night, officially of carbon monoxide poisoning from a faulty heater. His death robs the turbulent ex-Soviet state of an experienced and steadying hand at a crucial stage in its history. Tens of thousands of people made their way to the Cathedral of the Holy Trinity in the capital Tbilisi.
The coffin was later taken to the parliament, where a minute’s silence was held in the presence of many foreign dignitaries, before being laid to rest at the Pantheon beside other major figures in Georgian history.
Zhvania was a key player in the “Rose Revolution” of November 2003 which overthrew president Eduard Shevardnadze and installed Mikhail Saakashvili.
Paying tribute to his friend and close ally, Saaakshvili said: “despite what the cynics said Georgia has become a state. Above all, this was possible thanks to Zurab Zhvania.”
The prime minister’s role in recent privatisation deals and his moderate stance on separatist conflicts has prompted speculation he was murdered.
Saakashvili has pledged to continue along the political path he and his friend charted together.