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Russian Minister Visits Grave Of Late Georgian PM

18 February 2005 -- Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has launched a visit to the Georgian capital Tbilisi by laying a wreath at the grave of Georgia's late prime minister, Zurab Zhvania.

Sergei Lavrov said Zhvania had done much to settle Georgia's conflicts with the breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

Zhvania died in February of apparent carbon-monoxide poisoning from a faulty gas heater.

Lavrov was scheduled to meet Georgian officials today including Zhvania's successor, Zurab Noghaideli, and President Mikheil Saakashvili.

The visit is aimed at mending ties strained by disputes over Abkhazia and South Ossetia, as well as Georgia's demand that Moscow withdraw Soviet-era military bases from Georgia.

The visit itself has stirred controversy, after Lavrov said he will not visit a monument to Georgians who died fighting separatists in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, both regions with strong ties to Moscow.