Dzhaba Ioseliani, a powerful paramilitary leader in post-Soviet Georgia who was imprisoned for a bomb attack on the motorcade of the president he helped bring to power, died Tuesday. He was 76.
Ioseliani died at the Republic Hospital in Tbilisi where he had been hospitalized since suffering a stroke Feb. 26, state television reported.
As the leader of the Mkhedrioni (Horsemen) paramilitary force, he battled separatists in the South Ossetia and Abkhazia regions of Georgia in the early 1990s.
He was one of the initiators of the 1991-92 insurgency against the first president of independent Georgia, Zviad Gamsakhurdia, and was instrumental in bringing the current president, Eduard A. Shevardnadze, to office.
By the mid-1990s, he was considered the second most-powerful man in the Caucasus Mountains nation after Shevardnadze.
Relations between the two men were tense, however.
In early 1995, Shevardnadze ordered the Mkhedrioni disbanded, accusing the group of broad involvement in crime. Later that year, Ioseliani, who was also a member of parliament, was arrested for allegedly organizing a car bomb attack against Shevardnadze the previous August. He was charged with treason and plotting the killings of several Georgian political leaders, and sentenced in 1998 to 11 years in prison.
Ioseliani was among 279 people freed in an amnesty decreed by Shevardnadze in April 2000.
Ioseliani's criminal career went back to Soviet times, when he served time in prison for assault and robbery. In all, he spent more than 20 years behind bars.
Born in Khashuri, Georgia, Ioseliani was an Oriental studies major at Leningrad University but did not graduate. He later graduated from the Georgian Institute of Theater Arts, where he became a professor. He wrote a number of popular plays.
He was equally comfortable in battle fatigues and formal wear, sometimes making public appearances in a white suit and white bowtie, an outfit he accessorized with a white cane.
"In addition to everything else, he was a very erudite, interesting man," said Vakhtang Goguadze, who served as speaker of the Georgian parliament from 1992 to 1995.
A gifted politician, Ioseliani had recently announced plans to make a comeback in this fall's parliamentary elections.