Precede MOSCOW Reports: Ex-Georgian Leader Gamsakhurdia Commits Suicide
TBILISI, Georgia (AP) _ Zviad Gamsakhurdia, the ousted Georgian president who has been leading a rebellion, killed himself after being surrounded by pro-government forces, Russian news agencies quoted his wife as saying today.
The reports by Interfax and ITAR-Tass could not be immediately confirmed. Some Georgian officials suggested that Gamsakhurdia, 54, may have been shot in a quarrel with his own supporters.
Gamsakhurdia was Georgia’s first democratically elected leader, but he was ousted in a brief civil war two years ago by opponents who accused him of assuming dictatorial powers.
He returned from exile last fall to lead a rebellion in western Georgia against his successor, former Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze. Government forces gained the upper hand in recent months, and Gamsakhurdia’s death could end the rebellion.
Shevardnadze still faces a separate insurrection by separatists in the Abkhazia region of this former Soviet republic.
Manana Gamsakhurdia told Interfax that her husband shot himself Friday after he and a group of followers in western Georgia were surrounded by fighters from the pro-government paramilitary group Mkhedrioni.
A spokesman for the Mhkedrioni in Tbilisi, the Georgian capital, denied any involvement.
Gamsakhurdia supporters released what they said were the ex-president’s last words.
″Being in clear conscience, I commit this act in protest against the ruling regime in Georgia and because I am deprived of the possibility, acting as the president, to normalize the situation, to restore law and order,″ he reportedly said.
ITAR-Tass quoted Mrs. Gamsakhurdia, who is living in the breakaway Russian republic of Chechnya, as saying Georgian authorities had been aware of her husband’s death for several days but concealed it. She said she learned only today that he was dead.
David Mumladze, an aide to Georgia’s security minister, said the government was still trying to confirm the reports.
″According to some information Gamsakhurdia has indeed died ... In any case we do not believe the version of suicide because we know Zviad Gamsakhurdia,″ he said.
Mumladze suggested that Gamsakhurdia could have been killed by his own supporters to make him a martyr. He also said there were reports that Gamsakhurdia had had a serious row with his former chief commander, Loty Kobalia.
The son of a novelist, Gamsakhurdia was first arrested in 1956 as an anti- Soviet dissident at age 17. He was arrested again in 1977 after founding a human rights group.
After a year in solitary confinement, he was tried and sentenced to five years in prison for anti-Soviet propaganda. He was freed after two years after recanting on television.
A decade later, he was in the vanguard of the Georgian independence movement and, in 1990, he became chairman of the Georgian parliament.
Perhaps his greatest moment was when he declared Georgian independence from the Soviet Union. A month later, in May 1991, he was elected president in a landslide.
But his nationalist rhetoric, with its racial and messianic overtones, soon began to frighten many people in Georgia.
International human rights groups also accused him of human rights violations.