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Thousands of Georgians rally for Saakashvili

October 14, 2021

Supporters of jailed ex-president Mikheil Saakashvili have come out in their thousands, demanding that he be set free. Saakashvili was imprisoned earlier this month after returning from exile.

Thousands gather in Tbilisi to demand the release of imprisoned former president Mikheil Saakashvili
Thousands of Georgians took part in protests calling for the release of Mikheil SaakashviliImage: Alexander Burakov/DW

Tens of thousands of Georgians flooded the streets of central Tbilisi on Thursday in a show of support for imprisoned former president Mikheil Saakashvili.

The protesters demanded his release from jail.

Saakashvili was detained on October 1 after returning from Ukraine, where he had been living in exile.

The former president and opposition leader embarked on a hunger strike after his incarceration, and there are now concerns regarding his health.

In a statement read by his lawyer, Saakashvili said: "It's time to save Georgia now, that's why we have to be together."

"This Carthage of evil, betrayal and oppression will certainly fall," the statement added,  referring to the ancient city destroyed by war.

Why was Saakashvili imprisoned?

Saakashvili served as president of Georgia from 2004 to 2013. He left the country in 2014 and was convicted in absentia four years later on charges of corruption. He was given a six-year prison term.

He made his return to Georgia on the eve of local government elections, in an attempt to whip up support against billionaire businessman Bidzina Ivanishvili's Georgian Dream Party.

Authorities arrested him, with local media broadcasting footage of the 53-year-old being taken to jail.

In the elections, the United National Movement (UNM), the opposition party founded by Saakashvili, garnered 30.7% of the vote, with the Georgian Dream getting 46.7%.

'Georgia feels itself European'

Calls for release ignored

Ahead of Thursday's march, around 70,000 people signed an online petition demanding Saakashvili's release. 

Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili told reporters that "inmate Saakashvili's sole goal is to stir up destabilization and upheaval in the country."

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said he would push for Saakashvili's release, something that has been ruled out by Georgian authorities, who say they have no intention of pardoning him.

kb/nm (Reuters, AFP)