Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili announced the detention of former Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili. Saakashvili lives in Ukraine on a daily basis, but has already informed about his intention to come to Georgia. Georgia’s civil rights ombudsman Nino Lomjaria said that Saakashvili had started a hunger strike after a meeting with the former president in custody. The Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky expressed his concern about the situation around the former president of Georgia, and a Georgian diplomat was summoned to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
“Georgia’s third president, Mikheil Saakashvili, has been arrested and jailed,” Garibashvili said at a press conference.
On Saturday, Georgia’s ombudsman Nino Lomjaria said that Saakashvili had started a hunger strike after meeting the former president in custody. – When I walked in, Saakashvili was at the doctor’s and was undergoing a medical examination. Then I was given the opportunity to communicate with him in the cell. Mikheil Saakashvili said he was on hunger strike, said Nino Lomjaria.
‘She emphasized that according to reports the politician did not use force during the arrest, and he did not resist.
Saakashvili came to Georgia after eight years
Saakashvili, who is facing criminal convictions and charges in Georgia, announced Friday morning that he was in his home country. – Good morning, Georgia! I’ve been here after eight years. I risked my life and my freedom, said the 53-year-old former president in a video posted on his Facebook account. He also revealed that he is located in the coastal city of Batumi.
Initially, the Ministry of the Interior in Tbilisi did not confirm this information. Georgian authorities have announced that if the politician returns to the country, he will be detained.
Acting president in 2004-2007 and 2008-2013, Saakashvili announced that he would come to Georgia for the weekend on the occasion of the local elections scheduled for Saturday, which in Georgia are treated as a test for the ruling Georgian Dream party.
“I call on everyone to go and vote for the United National Movement, the main opposition party of which I am the founder,” appealed Saakashvili in the film. He also called on his supporters to meet on Sunday and march to the capital, Tbilisi, “to defend the vote.” He promised to join the demonstration. “If this usurper government can stop me first, it can only make us stronger.” I will not withdraw anyway and I hope that you will too – he emphasized.
“His announcement to return to Georgia, whether it is true or not, increases the tension ahead of Saturday’s elections,” Georgian President Salome Zurabishvili said on Friday in a television speech.
Georgia’s president said she would not pardon Saakashvili. “My answer is simple and final: no and never,” she commented. As she added, she will not pardon Saakashvili, because he wants to “be honest with the people who have suffered because of his regime.”
Echo Kawkaza website writes that Saakashvili was arrested in Tbilisi and taken to the penal colony in Rustavi, where former officials are serving his sentence. The website posted a video of Saakashvili, handcuffed and smiling, getting out of the car and being led into the building by policemen.
Zelensky, concerned about the situation, summoned a Georgian diplomat to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Ukraine’s foreign ministry spokesman, Oleh Nikolenko, said that the head of the Georgian embassy in that country had been summoned to the ministry on Friday in connection with the detention of Saakashvili. “We see information in the media about the detention of the Ukrainian citizen Saakashvili in Georgia. The head of the Georgian embassy in Ukraine was invited to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to receive official information about the grounds and circumstances of such detention,” Nikolenko wrote on Twitter.
“We are closely following the information about the detention of the head of the executive committee of the National Reform Council of Ukraine, Mikheil Saakashvili. President Volodymyr Zelensky is concerned about such news and the tone of statements that are heard in Georgia in the context of possible developments,” emphasized Zelensky’s spokesman Serhiy Nykyforov on Facebook.
As he added, Ukraine asks the Georgian side to explain all the circumstances and reasons for such a step in relation to the citizen of Ukraine. Saakashvili currently serves as a state in Ukraine.
In turn, the spokesman of the Russian president Vladimir Putin, Dmitry Peskov, answered the question whether the Kremlin was surprised by such developments around Saakashvili and whether Moscow was generally interested in the further fate of the former Georgian president, replied that “we are not interested in his fate”.
Escape from the country
Saakashvili left Georgia in 2013, because his party had lost the parliamentary elections a year earlier, and power was taken over by Georgian Dream, created by the influential businessman and billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili, whom the opposition accused of having ties with Russia.
In 2012, the new rulers decided to initiate several criminal cases against the president. In 2018, Saakashvili, who was in exile, was sentenced in absentia to six years in prison for abuse of power. Since 2014, he has been pursued with a Georgian arrest warrant.
Saakashvili dismisses all the accusations and says they are politically motivated. The politician was deprived of Georgian citizenship when he took Ukrainian citizenship.
The local elections in Georgia will be the first nationwide test of support for the Georgian Dream, which won the parliamentary elections for the third time last autumn, but was met with boycotts of the opposition and accusations of abuses.
Since then, the political crisis in Georgia has continued and attempts to resolve it have failed. After many months of boycotting the new parliament, the party in power and part of the opposition signed a “settlement” in April mediated by the President of the European Council, Charles Michel. The parties did not keep to it.
An additional background to the internal dispute is the increasingly acute conflict with the European Union and the West, although formally the government in Tbilisi upholds declarations about the pro-Western direction of Georgian policy. A few months ago, the government was criticized by EU leaders for not reacting to riots in the streets in which dozens of journalists were beaten, and one of them, the operator of the opposition television, died after a few days.
Main photo source: Remko de Waal / EPA / PAP