Mikheil Saakashvili: Thousands rally to call for release of Georgia’s ex-president

Thousands have taken to the streets in Tbilisi to demand the release of Georgia’s ex-President Mikheil Saakashvili from prison. Saakashvili …

Thousands have taken to the streets in Tbilisi to demand the release of Georgia’s ex-President Mikheil Saakashvili from prison.

Saakashvili, President of Georgia from 2004 to 2013, was arrested and imprisoned on October 1 after his return from exile in Ukraine.

He said he was risking returning to try to mobilize the opposition ahead of the local elections.

The 53-year-old pro-Western reformer and founder of Georgia’s largest opposition force was sentenced in absentia to six years in prison for abuse of office. He denies any wrongdoing.

Saakashvili announced a hunger strike hours after he was arrested, and his doctor said this week that his condition was worsening.

Its supporters want the country to “return to its pro-Western path”.

“It’s not just about saving Mikheil Saakashvili as president. First of all, we have to save our future,” said Nika Melia, chairman of the United National Movement.

“We don’t want a Lukashenko regime in Georgia. We don’t want to be a state that is far from democracy. Tonight is very promising.”

Saakashvili and his supporters say the charges against him are politically motivated and describe him as a political prisoner.

The rally of around 30,000 people on Freedom Square in Tbilisi on Thursday underlined the tensions ahead of the runoff elections for mayor in the six largest cities in Georgia, scheduled for October 30.

Opposition leaders believe that winning the runoff “will dramatically change the picture in the country.”

Prior to the demonstration, Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili said Saakashvili was trying to “stir up unrest and destabilize the country”.

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