No rest for Georgian leader as he's dug up for third time

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The Independent Online

He has already been dug up twice and it seems that Georgia's first president, the late Zviad Gamsakhurdia, will never be able to rest in peace.

Yesterday afternoon, his widow, Manana Archvadze, accompanied by about 100 elderly supporters, went to his graveside in Tbilisi and began a new attempt to dig up his remains as part of a protest at the detention of her son.

The macabre demonstration, which took place in the capital's most exclusive cemetery, came before Tsotne Gamsakhurdia goes on trial tomorrow for espionage and the attempted murder of his neighbour last year – a charge that his supporters consider politically motivated.

In spite of the icy conditions, the group managed to dig about three feet into the ground, and had almost reached the coffin by the time the authorities arrived.

A bizarre stand-off ensued, with the police threatening to make arrests, and Ms Archvadze insisting that nothing would stop her from re-interring her late husband in the garden of the house they shared. Even the intervention of the local priest failed to resolve the situation, and as night fell, the widow remained by the graveside, watched over by scores of increasingly miserable-looking policemen.

Her publicity stunt on behalf of her son, who is on hunger strike, did not extend to speaking to journalists at the scene. Dressed in a full-length black fur coat and accompanied by a phalanx of angry pensioners, the former first lady shouted "Liars! Liars!" at Georgian journalists, and tried to chase cameramen attempting to film the grave. "What are you doing here?" she asked The Independent. "It is clear that you are a spy."

If the president's widow does manage to get her way, it will be the third time her husband has been exhumed: indeed, he has been buried in Tbilisi only since 2007.

Two years after being ousted in a coup in 1991, Mr Gamsakhurdia returned to try to retake power. He died surrounded by enemy forces in a remote village in western Georgia and was buried in a shallow grave. Although the official version of his death says he killed himself, many in Georgia believe he was murdered.

His remaining supporters secretly disinterred him and took his body to Chechnya, where he had lived under the patronage of the separatist leader Dzhokhar Dudayev.

Following the destruction of Grozny in the two Chechen wars, his grave was thought to be lost, but was rediscovered in 2007. He was returned to Tbilisi and buried with great pomp that year.