Ex-Soviet minister and Georgia leader Shevardnadze dies

TBILISI (REUTERS) - Eduard Shevardnadze, who died on Monday, helped remake the world as the last foreign minister of the Soviet Union, only to be bundled from power, pale and confused, by the democratic forces his work had unleashed.

Charm and quick wit set Shevardnadze apart from his predecessors as the Soviet Union's face to the world.

He was a wily and bruising political operator, one of the intellectual fathers of Mikhail Gorbachev's policy of"perestroika" (restructuring) who helped oversee the withdrawal of Soviet forces from Afghanistan in 1989.

Shevardnadze was also instrumental in the unification of Germany.

His shock resignation in late 1990, however, dealt a huge blow to Gorbachev, and gave substance to a creeping unease over the threat from hardline opponents of reform and the imminent collapse of the Soviet Union.

As the union splintered, Shevardnadze returned to his native Georgia, newly independent, to try and save it from civil war.

The ageing statesman became cut off, poverty and corruption flourishing under him until his US-educated protégé, Mikheil Saakashvili, harnessed street protests that became the Rose Revolution and Shevarnadze's bodyguards ushered him out the back door of parliament and into retirement. "I'm going home," he said in a televised address announcing his resignation in 2003.

Shevardnadze spent his last decade in quiet seclusion in his hilltop residence, an elderly sage offering words of wisdom to a people who had long stopped listening. "History will judge him kindly," Saakashvili said in 2003.

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