Former Georgian president arrested after returning to the country

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Mikheil Saakashvili, the former Georgian president, was arrested after returning to the country, the government said on Friday, a move that came as the former leader sought to mobilize supporters ahead of national municipal elections considered essential for the composition country policy.

Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili’s announcement came about 18 hours after Saakashvili, who was convicted in absentia for abuse of power and has lived in Ukraine for the past few years, posted on Facebook that he was back in the country.

Details of the arrest were not immediately clear, but on Friday evening Georgian TV stations released a video of Saakashvili in handcuffs, with a wide smile on his face, taken into custody.

In a previous video on Facebook, Saakashvili said he was in Batumi, the Black Sea port and resort town which is Georgia’s second largest city. Georgian officials earlier today denied that he was in the country.

The prison where Saakashvili is being held is seen in Rustavi, Georgia on Friday. (Vano Shlamov / AFP via Getty Images)

In the messages, Saakashvili said Saturday’s elections were “crucial” for Georgia and called for a rally in the capital Tbilisi on Sunday, vowing to join.

Saakashvili’s attempts to rally Georgians could upset the ruling party’s plans to secure dominance in the ballot for mayors and local assemblies, which is widely seen as a vote of confidence in the national government and could trigger an election. anticipated next year.

The European Union negotiated an agreement in April to ease a political crisis between the ruling Georgian Dream party and opposition groups, including the United National Movement of Saakashvili, the country’s second largest political force.

The agreement stipulated that early parliamentary elections should be called in 2022 if Georgian Dream obtains less than 43% of all proportional votes in local elections in the country’s 64 municipalities.

It is not clear, however, whether the EU’s deal will be followed.

Nika Melia, head of the United National Movement, addressed the media in Tbilisi on Friday. (Zurab Tsertsvadze / The Associated Press)

In July, Georgian Dream withdrew from the agreement because the United National Movement had not yet signed it.

The opposition party finally signed this month, and Saakashvili urged his supporters to come to the polls in force.

Energetic leader with a penchant for drama

Saakashvili’s intense smile in custody underscored his penchant for public drama, especially his daring entries into unwelcoming places.

He first gained international attention during the Rose Revolution protests in 2003 when he led a mob of protesters who broke into a parliamentary session, forcing then-President Edward Shevardnadze to flee. Shevardnadze, a former Soviet foreign minister, resigned a day later.

In 2017, he made his way with a host of supporters to Ukraine from Poland, after his Ukrainian citizenship was canceled.

Returning to Georgia even though he risked some arrest, Saakashvili also echoed Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who returned from Germany to Moscow in January, was arrested on his arrival and then sent to prison.

Saakashvili, then President of Georgia, shakes hands with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper before a NATO summit in Portugal in November 2010. (Sean Kilpatrick / The Canadian Press)

Saakashvili was president from 2004 to 2013 and was renowned for his vigorous efforts against Georgia’s endemic corruption, but Georgians became increasingly uncomfortable with what they saw as his authoritarian inclinations and behavior. sometimes mercurial.

Saakashvilii left the country shortly after the 2013 election, which he was unable to stand for, was won by the Georgian Dream candidate.

In 2018 Georgian courts found him guilty and sentenced him to up to six years in prison.

Time in Ukraine

Saakashvili moved to Ukraine, where he became governor of the corrupt Odessa region, and was granted Ukrainian citizenship, which canceled his Georgian citizenship.

However, he fell out with then-president Petro Poroshenko, resigned his post and was stripped of Ukrainian nationality.

Saakashvili waves to his supporters at a rally in Kiev, Ukraine, in November 2016. (Efrem Lukatsky / The Associated Press)

He forcibly returned to Ukraine in 2017, but was ultimately deported to Poland. After Poroshenko’s successor Volodymyr Zelenskyy came to power, Saakashvili returned to Ukraine and was appointed to a leading position in the fight against corruption.

“Zelenskyy is concerned about this news,” said spokesperson Serhiy Nikiforov. “Ukraine appeals to Georgia for an explanation of all the circumstances and the reasons for this decision concerning this Ukrainian citizen.”

The Georgian Prosecutor’s Office said a case has been opened against Saakashvili for illegally crossing the border, although the basis for such a charge is unclear as Ukrainian citizens do not need a visa to enter. Georgia.


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