A local election is scheduled in Georgia, which is seen as an important mood test for the government. Shortly before that, ex-President Saakashvili returned to the country – and did not stay on the run for long.
Tbilisi (AP) – Shortly before the local elections in the Republic of Georgia in the South Caucasus, former President Mikhail Saakashvili, who was wanted on an arrest warrant, returned to his country – and was arrested.
Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili said Friday evening on Georgian television. “I would like to inform the public that the third wanted President of Georgia has been arrested.” Garibashvili did not name a location at the start.
Saakashvili previously said he arrived in the Georgian port city of Batumi on the Black Sea. “I risked my life and my freedom to come back,” he said on Facebook. The former president initially wanted to land in the capital Tbilisi this Saturday evening. After the announcement, the authorities threatened to arrest Saakashvili.
In the evening, they released a video showing Saakashvili being transferred to a detention center. The politician, who is a citizen of Ukraine, laughed. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyi was “concerned about the timeliness and tone of statements” from Tbilisi, as his Facebook spokesperson wrote. The Foreign Ministry in the capital Kiev summoned the Georgian ambassador for a meeting.
Saakashvili is considered pro-Western
The politician, convicted of abuse of power, called for demonstrations this Saturday in view of the local elections in Georgia. The people should also vote for the opposition party they founded, the United National Movement. The election is seen as an important mood test for the ruling Georgian Dream party.
The former Soviet Republic plunged into a political crisis after the parliamentary elections last fall. The opposition, which sees the ruling party’s victory as a forgery, boycotted the work of parliament and called for new elections. There were mass protests. President Salomé Zurabishvili on Friday warned of further unrest and called on her compatriots to show restraint.
Saakashvili was sentenced to multiple prison terms after being dismissed from his post in 2013. The 53-year-old was President of Georgia from 2004 to 2013 and implemented pro-Western reforms. After the August war it started in 2008, Russia recognized the Georgian separatist territories of South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent states. He last lived in Ukraine. There, President Zelenskyi had appointed him to head the Executive Committee for Reforms. This caused considerable resentment in Georgia.