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Georgians Lay First President To Rest

President Mikheil Saakashvili attending services on March 31 ahead of Gamskhurdia's reburial (InterPressNews) April 1, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Thousands of Georgians gathered today for the funeral of the first president of independent Georgia, Zviad Gamsakhurdia.

His body was returned to Georgia last week from Chechnya for reburial on what would have been his 68th birthday.

'Father Of Independence'

Mourners lined the route as the body was brought in a procession to a pantheon of celebrated writers in the capital, Tbilisi.

President Mikheil Saakashvili praised Gamsakhurdia as the father of Georgian independence.

Gamsakhurdia was elected Georgian president in May 1991, but was ousted seven months later.

He first fled to Armenia and then to Chechnya. Following an abortive comeback attempt, he died in Chechnya under unclear circumstances on December 31, 1993.

His body was buried first in western Georgia, then in Grozny, the Chechen capital. However, earlier this year it was discovered that his remains were no longer located at the Grozny burial site.

At the behest of relatives of Gamsakhurdia, a search was reportedly initiated by order of Chechen Republic President Ramzan Kadyrov.

Mystery Remains

A coffin containing his remains was discovered on March 3 at an undisclosed location in Grozny,

The remains were disinterred and identified by Russian forensic experts, apparently on the basis of a DNA sample from one of Gamsakhurdia's three sons.

Akhmed Zakayev, a representative of the separatist leadership in Chechnya, has expressed doubts that the remains discovered are indeed those of Gamsakhurdia, according to

He told the Russian website that Gamsakhurdia's remains were disinterred at the beginning of the 1994-96 war and reburied in a safe location known only to himself and a handful of other people.

(with material from agency reports)

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RFE/RL Caucasus Report

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