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Former Georgia President Eduard Shevardnadze dies

By Saeed Ahmed, CNN
updated 4:33 PM EDT, Mon July 7, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • As Gorbachev's foreign minister, he helped end the Cold War
  • As president of Georgia, he was accused of massive corruption
  • His resignation was greeted with cheers and fireworks

(CNN) -- Eduard Shevardnadze, whose political career seesawed between two extremes, has died, Georgia's GHN news agency reported Monday. He was 86.

Around the world, he was hailed as the man who helped end the Cold War. At home, he was the man whose resignation as president of Georgia was greeted by cheers and fireworks.

Born in Georgia in 1928, he worked his way up the Communist Party chain until he became the foreign minister for the Soviet Union under President Mikhail Gorbachev.

It was then that Gorbachev announced his policy of "perestroika," or change, in the Soviet Union. Shevardnadze was the international face of it.

Perestroika led to the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War. Shevardnadze helped broker the deal that led to the fall of the Berlin Wall, and he normalized Moscow's ties with Washington.

The breakup of the Soviet empire gave birth to many independent republics; Georgia was one of them.

Shevardnadze went home to preside over the infant nation.

When he replaced ousted President Zviad Gamsakhurdia in 1992, Shevardnadze was expected to bring the country's 4.5 million people a better life.

Instead, according to the watchdog group Transparency International, corruption became endemic during his 11 years in charge. Georgia landed on a list of the 10 most corrupt countries in the world.

"In the West, we think of Shevardnadze as a man who helped to peacefully end the Soviet Union, but here he became a despised man, and people described him as a dictator whom they simply could not stand having in power anymore," CNN correspondent Jill Dougherty said at the time.

Renewed hope for the future came with Shevardnadze's promise of free and democratic elections.

But the day after 2003's parliamentary vote, hopes faded when the election commission's first figures showed Shevardnadze's party in the lead. The opposition cried fraud, and the protests began -- around the clock for more than a week.

Bad news came again on November 6 when officials announced a two-week delay in releasing final results.

Shevardnadze tried to work things out with the opposition, but the talks failed, and up to 20,000 protesters converged on the capital city to demand his resignation.

But Shevardnadze refused to step down and convened the newly elected Parliament. To many Georgians, it reflected just one more broken promise.

Tired of his presidency, Georgians ushered in the bloodless Rose Revolution. Amid huge pressure from tens of thousands of protesters, Shevardnadze stepped down.

"At the beginning, I had a different mood, but now I see that it is impossible to avoid bloodshed. I never betrayed my people," he said. "Now, I say it's much better to resign with no bloodshed, no victims."

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