Georgia Detains Former President
By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent Worthy News
(Worthy News) – Georgia’s former President Mikheil Saakashvili was detained Friday when returning to his home country after some eight years in exile.
The outspoken pro-Western Saakashvili led the Caucasus country from 2004 to 2013 but was later convicted in absentia and sentenced to six years in prison. He denies wrongdoing saying the case is politically motivated.
Saakashvili, who left the Caucasus nation after his second presidential term ended in 2013, announced his return in video messages on Friday, a day before crucial local elections.
He said he was in the western city of Batumi and had returned to Georgia from Ukraine where he lived in exile while heading a government agency steering reforms
Saakashvili said he had arrived to ensure the fairness of Saturday’s polls. “I risked my life and freedom to be back,” Saakashvili said.
“I call on everyone to go to the elections and vote for the United National Movement,” he added, referring to Georgia’s main opposition party which he founded.
The municipal elections are a key test for the ruling Georgian Dream party and are being watched both inside and outside Georgia for signs of the country backsliding on democracy.
The jailing of the 53-year-old Saakashvili ahead of the vote came despite concerns his detention would lead to a showdown between government and opposition supporters.
However, Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili said his political rival had quickly been detained.
“Georgia’s third president Mikheil Saakashvili has been arrested today and sent to jail,” Garibashvili told reporters in the capital Tbilisi.
Georgian television later showed the former president in handcuffs and smiling as officers led him away.
A Georgian rights ombudsman who visited him in prison reportedly said he had started a hunger strike and that he considers himself a political prisoner.
Yet, President Salome Zourabichvili warned she would not pardon Saakashvili, despite mounting pressure to do so.
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