Russia angrily denied suggestions yesterday of involvement in the sudden death of Georgia's Prime Minister, Zurab Zhvania, an architect of its bloodless "rose revolution".
His body was found in a friend's flat in the Georgian capital, Tbilisi, yesterday. A friend, Raul Usupov, with whom he had been playing backgammon, was also dead.
Mr Zhvania, 41, was a pivotal figure in the ousting of Georgia's Soviet-era president, Edvard Shevardnadze, in 2003, in favour of the pro-US Mikhail Saakashvili. Relations with Russia have been strained over the presence of Russian troops, territorial disputes and Mr Saakashvili's US links.
Investigators said the men may have been poisoned by carbon monoxide from a faulty gas-heater. But an MP, Amiran Shalamberidze, suggested a link to Georgia's dispute with Russia over the breakaway region of South Ossetia. "There is the impression these tragic facts didn't occur by chance," Itar-Tass quoted him as saying. "But [they] were the result of interference from certain outside forces ... acting from Russia."
The Russian Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, dismissed such talk as nonsense. "The statements of those who rush to make judgements ... will remain on their consciences.