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Georgian Opposition Leader Dies Suddenly in London; Police Launch Probe


An exiled Georgian opposition leader who led and financed recent efforts to unseat President Mikhail Saakashvili, has been found dead outside London.

An opposition spokesman says 52-year-old media tycoon Badri Patarkatsishvili died late Tuesday at his suburban London mansion of a suspected heart attack. British police say they have not confirmed the cause of death and are for now treating it as suspicious. Preliminary autopsy results were expected later Wednesday.

Patarkatsishvili fled to Britain late last year, shortly after Georgian officials accused him of plotting to oust President Mikhail Saakashvili by funding opposition protests in Tbilisi later broken up by police. The protests led the president to call early elections.

Despite growing antipathy between the tycoon and Mr. Saakashvili, the office of the president today issued a brief statement of condolences to the Patakatsishvili family.

The statement said that despite the fact Patarkatsishvili was accused of "grave crimes against the state, every person's death is a great tragedy."

Though living in exile, Patarkatsishvili remained on the January presidential ballot, winning about seven percent of the vote. Weeks earlier, he said he believed he was the target of an assassination plot.

Patarkatsishvili told a leading British newspaper he learned of the plot from a secret audio recording in which a Georgian interior ministry official details different methods of killing him.

Early this year, several Georgian television stations aired a tape showing Patarkatsishvili offering $100 million to an Interior Ministry official in exchange for a ministry pledge not to use police force against protesters. The tycoon admitted the offer, saying he was trying to ensure that Georgian police would not intervene in planned protests against the election.

Some information for this report provided by AFP.