Tbilisi, Oct 14, 2021 (AFP)
Georgians from across the country flocked Thursday to the capital Tbilisi to stage a rally demanding the liberation of the jailed ex-president and opposition leader Mikheil Saakashvili.
Georgia's president in 2004-2013, Saakashvili was arrested and imprisoned in early October upon his return from exile.
The 53-year-old founder of Georgia's main opposition force, the United National Movement, has since been on hunger strike and doctors have expressed concern over his deteriorating health.
The flamboyant pro-Western reformer had been convicted in absentia on charges of abuse of office and sentenced to six years in prison in 2018. He has denied wrongdoing.
The protest in the capital's central square was set for 1400 GMT, and on Thursday morning, kilometres-long motorcades carrying Saakashvili supporters headed to Tbilisi from across the country, the independent Pirveli TV station reported.
Busloads of riot police have been deployed outside the parliament building ahead of the protest, according to footage aired by another private TV channel.
Saakashvili has called on his supporters to mobilise against tycoon Bidzina Ivanishvili, who founded the ruling Georgian Dream party and is widely believed to be the top decision-maker in the country.
The opposition politician "urges all Georgians to gather in Freedom Square for a nationwide protest against the oligarchic rule in the country," his lawyer Dito Sadzaglishvili told AFP, referring to Ivanishvili, a former prime minister.
Saakashvili was stripped of his Georgian passport after he acquired Ukrainian nationality in 2016 and went on to head a government agency steering reforms in that ex-Soviet country.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has said he will press for Saakashvili's release, but Georgia's Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili has ruled out the former leader's extradition to Ukraine.
In televised remarks that sparked an uproar in Georgia, Garibashvili has said "Saakashvili had to leave politics or we had to detain him."
The prosecution of Saakashvili and his numerous allies by the current government has prompted concerns in the West.
His detention deepened a protracted political crisis in Georgia, where opposition parties had decried widespread fraud in last year's parliamentary elections narrowly won by Georgian Dream party.
Sumber : AFP
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