Former Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili, arrested upon his return to the country after eight years in exile

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Georgian authorities have detained former President Mikhail Saakashvili upon his return to the country after eight years in exile, Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili has announced. The former leader – who ruled between 2004 and 2013 – is convicted of two cases of abuse of power, which he considers politically motivated. Saakashvili, who now leads a part of the opposition from outside the small Caucasian country that has suffered for months of crisis and political instability, had announced his return on social media coinciding with the local elections this weekend, which are perceived as a test for the ruling party.

The former leader, who had first told that he would arrive this Saturday by plane, published on his Facebook page this Friday morning a message with a blurred photograph in which he assured that he was already in the Georgian city of Batumi. “I risked everything, freedom, life, to be here,” he stressed, asking his supporters to take to the streets tomorrow in the capital, Tbilisi.

The Interior Ministry was quick to deny that Saakashvili, who lately lived in Ukraine, where he is a citizen and where he also tried to pursue a political career, had crossed the border and the government party, Georgian Dream, accused him of lying and being a “clown”. Hours later, Prime Minister Garibashvili assured in a press conference that the authorities had followed in the footsteps of the former president and waited for the “right moment” to arrest him, although he did not specify where. “The former president, a criminal and a criminal, has been arrested and transferred to a prison,” he said.

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Saakashvili, founder of the United National Movement (MNU), fled Georgia after the incoming government of his rival, oligarch Bidzina Ivanishvili, opened a case of abuse of power against him. The former leader was the leader of the so-called Rose Revolution of 2003, which for a time ousted part of the post-communist elites from power; but he was also the face of the government during the defeat in the war against Russia in 2008. After his departure, in addition, reports surfaced of significant human rights violations during his tenure.

The former president, a populist politician fond of large displays and attention shocks, lived in the United States after exiling from Georgia. After he moved to Ukraine, he obtained nationality and reinvented himself as a figure of political opposition to the Government of Petro Poroshenko. In 2018 he already starred in a bizarre cinematic episode, when after being processed by the Kiev government he avoided arrest by summoning hundreds of followers who ended up freeing him from the police van. Over the years, Saakashvili has managed to gain some political position in Ukraine, where he has been governor in Odessa and an advisor to one of the agencies of the Government of Volodymyr Zelensky.

Saakashvili, who had his Georgian citizenship withdrawn and sentenced in absentia in that country, now faces two sentences of three and six years in prison. His party, the MNU, assures that his arrest is a “provocation”.

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Georgia has experienced a political crisis since last year, when opposition parties denounced massive fraud in the legislative elections in which the ruling Georgian Dream party won.

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