Last key Soviet minister dies at 86

Gorbachev calls Shevardnadze as Georgia's ideal representative

TBILISI, Georgia Eduard Shevardnadze, who helped end the Cold War as the Soviet Union's last foreign affairs minister before becoming president of Georgia, died on Monday at the age of 86.

He was a controversial figure praised for his role in negotiating a bloodless end to the Soviet Union's confrontation with the West, but despised at home for his 10 years at the helm of post-Soviet Georgia that saw him ousted in a popular uprising.

“Mr Shevardnadze died today at noon," his aide Marina Davitashvili told AFP, weeping. "He was ill for a long time." Shevardnadze won high praise on the world stage for his time as Mikhail Gorbachev's chief diplomat, when he oversaw arms-reduction treaties with the United States and brokered the deal that brought down the Berlin Wall.

Speaking on Russian radio, the former Soviet leader recalled Shevardnadze as Georgia's ideal representative. “You could speak to him directly, it was good working with him. He was a very capable, talented man, very much predisposed to working with people, with all strata of society," Gorbachev said.

Russian President Vladimir Putin also expressed deep condolences to (Shevardnadze's) relatives and loved ones as well as to the entire Georgian people," said a Kremlin statement. Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili joined in the tributes, saying the former leader's contribution to defining Georgia's geo-political role in the modern world was of particular importance.

"Eduard Shevardnadze was a politician of international importance; he made an immense contribution to ending the Cold War and establishing a new world order." But Shevardnadze's 10 years as leader of his native Georgia ended with a dramatic fall from grace, when his overthrow in the 2003 Rose Revolution saw thousands dancing and singing in the streets of the capital Tbilisi.

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Aaj Kal