Former Georgian President Saakashvili returns from exile, arrested on the eve of elections


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Former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili was arrested after returning to the country for the first time after eight years in exile, it was announced on Friday, a day before crucial municipal elections were held in the former republic. Soviet.


Details of the arrest remain unclear, but Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili told reporters on Friday that Saakashvili was taken to Rustavi prison hours after the ex-president posted his return on Facebook.

Saakashvili had urged voters in the South Caucasus country to support the United National Movement, the opposition party he co-founded two decades ago, in Saturday’s local elections against the ruling Georgian Dream.

He was seen handcuffed but smiling as he was escorted by police in a video shared by the Home Office, an image that “underscored his penchant for public drama,” as the Associated Press said. .

Key context

Saakashvili was Georgia’s third president from 2004 to 2013 after coming to power during the country’s Rose Revolution, which overthrew former President Edward Shevardnadze. At the start of his tenure he was seen as a reformer on a crusade, but by the end he was known for his increasingly authoritarian tendencies and punitive justice system. Saakashvili’s government was defeated in parliamentary elections by the ruling Georgian Dream party nine years ago to the day on Friday, after which it left for Ukraine. There he became governor of Odessa – renouncing his Georgian nationality – but later resigned and was stripped of his Ukrainian nationality after facing off against then-president Petro Poroshenko. After Poroshenko left, Saakashvili was appointed head of a government agency tasked with fighting corruption and his Ukrainian citizenship was restored. Saakashvili himself has been wanted in Georgia since being convicted in absentia of corruption charges he claims to be politically motivated.

What to watch out for

Saturday’s municipal election comes after Georgian Dream’s narrow victory in last year’s election, the results of which were widely protested amid allegations of voter fraud. A deal brokered by the European Union between Georgian Dream and the opposition collapsed earlier this year when the party unilaterally withdrew from the deal. In addition to the political crisis, Georgia has a struggling economy and devastating Covid-19 rates.

Further reading

“Georgia arrests ex-president Saakashvili after returning from exile” (Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty)

“Former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili arrested on the eve of the elections” (Politico)

“Former Georgia President Arrested After Returning Home” (Associated Press)

“Georgia arrests ex-president Saakashvili after returning from exile” (Al Jazeera)

“Former Georgian President Saakashvili arrested on return from exile” (BBC News)

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