"--IANS/EFE"
Tbilisi (Georgia), July 7 (IANS/EFE) Former Georgian president and Soviet foreign minister Eduard Shevardnadze, a key figure in the perestroika reforms in the Soviet Union, died on Monday at 86 in his home in Tbilisi after a long illness, his press office reported.

The former leader, who retired from politics in 2003 when he resigned from the presidency against the backdrop of what was known as the Rose Revolution, was very ill, his spokeswoman, Marina Davitashvili, told Efe.

Shevardnadze is considered the most famous Georgian after late Soviet leader Joseph Stalin.

He was the main supporter of the reforms passed between 1985 and 1991 by the last leader of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev.

Shevardnadze resigned from his post as foreign minister of the Soviet Union in 1990 after denouncing that a dictatorship was in the making in the country.

In August the following year, conservatives in the Communist Party launched a coup against Gorbachev that sped up the breakdown of the Soviet Union.

Shevardnadze returned to Georgia in 1992 after it separated from the Soviet Union to be appointed president of the state council, the highest office in the country, and three years later he was elected president, winning a second term in 2000 with an absolute majority.

He survived two assassination attempts which he attributed to the Russian security services.

Shevardnadze, who steered his country out of a civil war, was toppled in 2003 in the Rose Revolution sparked by opposition allegations of fraud in legislative elections.

--IANS/EFE

ab/vm


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