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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Gamsakhurdia's Body Back in Georgia

ReutersPeople holding candles and flags as they wait for a motorcade with Gamsakhurdia's coffin near Tbilisi on Wednesday.
TBILISI, Georgia -- The body of Zviad Gamsakhurdia, Georgia's first post-Soviet president and one of the most controversial figures in the chaos of Georgia's early independent years, was returned Wednesday to Tbilisi for burial more than a decade after it disappeared.

The body, which was found in Chechnya earlier this month, was brought back by ambulance, with Gamsakhurdia supporters standing along snowy roads holding portraits of him as the vehicle passed.

The remains were taken to the Gamsakhurdia family's ancestral house in Tbilisi to await burial. His widow, Manana, had demanded that he be buried on the grounds of Tbilisi's cathedral, but a government commission has recommended he be interred at the pantheon of noted Georgian writers on Mtatsminda mountain at the city's edge.

Gamsakhurdia was a noted author and scholar of the iconic Georgian poet Shota Rustaveli. He also was an active dissident in Soviet times.

As the Soviet Union deteriorated, he rose to political prominence and was elected president in June 1991. But he quickly came under criticism for autocratic decisions and for cracking down on opponents. An armed uprising against him broke out in late December.

He fled Georgia on January 6, 1992 -- less than two weeks after Mikhail Gorbachev signed the Soviet Union out of existence. He returned to lead an uprising in western Georgia in 1993, but the fighting was quickly put down and Gamsakhurdia was surrounded. He died on New Year's Eve under mysterious circumstances -- some say he committed suicide, others say he was shot in a dispute with his own supporters. He was 54.

His body was then taken to Chechnya, where his widow was living, and buried. But Chechnya's war against federal forces broke out later that year and the gravesite was lost. It was found in the center of Grozny early this month and the body exhumed.

Gamsakhurdia still evokes immense loyalty among many Georgians, and many of his supporters took to the streets in the 2003 Rose Revolution against President Eduard Shevardnadze, who replaced Gamsakhurdia.