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Returning home, Georgian ex-leader arrested after call for election protest By Reuters


© Reuters. In this still taken from video, Georgia’s ex-President Mikheil Saakashvili is being escorted to Rustavi prison by officers. Georgian Interior Ministry


David Chkhikvishvili

TBILISI, (Reuters) – Georgian police arrested Mikheil Saakashvili on Friday. The ex-president of Georgia was returning to Georgia despite being in prison and calling for street demonstrations after the election.

Saakashvili is a Ukrainian national who was sentenced in absentia to Georgian prison in 2018. In 2018, he announced that he would return home to vote in the local elections.

His followers were told by him on Friday to vote against the government and then to gather in Tbilisi’s heart on Sunday.

Initial claims by the government that he was not returning were denied, but on Friday, Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili made it clear to reporters at the TASS news agency that Saakashvili has been taken into custody and transferred to a facility for detention.

Two police officers led him away in video that was broadcast in Georgian. He smiled broadly as he was held in handcuffs. Later, a rights advocate visited him and reported that he was on hunger strike.

Garibashvili had previously warned Saakashvili that he would arrest the 53 year-old if he came back. Saakashvili, who he called politically motivated, was found guilty in absentia in 2018 of covering up evidence and abuse of power.

Interfax Ukraine reported that Saakashvili’s lawyer referred to his Friday arrest as “political imprisonment”.

Saakashvili said to his supporters during a prerecorded Facebook video (NASDAQ:): “In all probabilities, I’m being held now in Tbilisi. However, I want them to understand that I don’t fear. Vote and go to tomorrow’s elections. We will celebrate our victory (Sunday).

A variety of votes are available for the local election, which includes one vote for mayor of Tbilisi (Georgia’s capital).

Voting took place amid an ongoing standoff between Georgia’s ruling Dream party and United National Movement created by Saakashvili, and in the midst of a political crisis that started at last year’s Parliament election. The opposition claims it was rigged.

International observers stated that the election was competitive at the time and that the fundamental freedoms were generally respected.

After his arrest, there were no signs that protests had begun. Nika Mali, chief of United National Movement (United National Movement), accused the government for making Saakashvili “refugee”, and claimed he was aware of the risk of going home.

Saakashvili was the leader of Georgia’s 2003 Rose Revolution that saw the resignation of President Eduard Shevardnadze. He posted an early Friday video from Batumi (Georgia) on the Black Sea.

He urged his followers to vote in United National Movement, or any smaller party against Georgian Dream.

Everyone must get out and vote. Freedom Square will be full on October 3rd. He posted the video.

“You can see that I have risked my entire life, liberty, and everything in order to reach this point. He stated that he only wanted one thing: to vote.

According to TASS news agency, President Salome Zourabichvili stated that she will not pardon Saakashvili.

The foreign ministry of Ukraine claimed that the Georgian ambassador had been summoned by it after his release.