Georgia opposition leader dies suddenly in London

Wealthy Georgian businessman Badri Patarkatsishvili, who led and financed a big opposition campaign against President Mikhail Saakashvili, has died in London, one of his aides said on Wednesday.

”Yes, I can confirm this, he died yesterday [Tuesday] night,” Nona Gaprindashvili, the former head of his presidential election campaign, told Reuters. A report on Georgian public television said the businessman had died of a heart attack.

”It happened at 11 o’clock [last night] at Badri’s house outside London. As far as I know from his relatives, it was his heart,” Russian billionaire Boris Berezovsky, a friend and business partner of Patarkatsishvili, told Reuters by phone from his London home.

British police said they had not received any reports on his death, suggesting that it was not being treated as suspicious. London coroners were not immediately reachable for comment.

Patarkatsishvili (52) a wealthy and prominent figure in his native Georgia, had been living in London since last year after Georgian authorities accused him of plotting a coup against the president and issued a warrant for his arrest.

Western powers have been eyeing developments in Georgia closely. The country lies on the route of a major oil pipeline in a strategic region bordering Turkey and Russia. It is at the heart of a tussle for influence between former Soviet master Moscow and new allies in the West.

Authorities blamed Patarkatsishvili and his Imedi television station for stirring mass protests against Saakashvili on the streets of Georgia last November, the biggest challenge to the pro-Western president since he took power in 2003.

The protests were crushed when Saakashvili sent in riot police to fire rubber bullets and tear gas at demonstrators, sparking international condemnation.

Opposition leaders said the protests were triggered by anger at corruption and poverty in Georgia. Patarkatsishvili accused Saakashvili of pushing his country into dictatorship.

The businessman, who made his fortune in Russia during the 1990s, ran in Georgia’s presidential election in January but did not return to campaign in his homeland for fear of arrest. He obtained seven percent of the votes.

Saakashvili won the election on the first round but the opposition accused him of cheating and refused to accept the result. Western monitors gave the poll a mixed verdict.

Following the election, a Georgian court seized Patarkatsishvili’s television station and other assets, a move the businessman said was ”part of the harassment by Saakashvili to destroy the opposition and enforce his falsified election”.

In December, London’s Sunday Times newspaper published a story about an alleged plot to murder Patarkatsishvili. The businessman responded by appealing to Georgia’s government to start an immediate investigation into the matter.

The government dismissed the claims as fabrication. – Reuters

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