Moscow denies link to Georgia PM's death

RUSSIA ANGRILY rebuffed 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. His friend, Raul Usupov, with whom he had been playing backgammon, was also dead. Mr Zhvania, 41, was a pivotal figure in the ousting of Soviet-era Edvard Shevardnadze in 2003, and helped usher in 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 it looked as though the men had been poisoned by carbon monoxide leaking from a faulty, Iranian-made gas-heater. But MP Amiran Shalamberidze suggested a link to Georgia's dispute with Russia over the breakaway region of South Ossetia. "There is the impression that 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. These forces are acting from Russia."

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov dismissed such talk as nonsense. "The statements of those who rush to make judgements ... will remain on their consciences."

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