Georgian protesters rally to support jailed ex-president
MOSCOW, November 6 (Reuters) – Around 3,000 Georgian protesters staged a rally in support of jailed former president Mikheil Saakashvili on Saturday outside the prison where he says he is on hunger strike.
Georgia’s state security service said the protests were part of a planned coup designed and led by Saakashvili.
The stage was set for a potentially tense confrontation between security forces and opposition supporters, but the rally outside the prison in the town of Rustavi, southeast of the capital Tbilisi, largely went in the calm.
“Organizers of the protests plan to block government buildings,” Russian news agency TASS said, citing a state security spokesperson.
“These actions aimed at seizing power by violence are planned by the convict Mikheil Saakashvili of prison.”
Saakashvili, 53, has been on a hunger strike for more than a month in prison, his lawyers said, but the Georgian Prison Service released video footage shot in early November on Saturday that appeared to show Saakashvili eating at a small cup with a spoon.
Saakashvili, who received a blood transfusion in late October, said he had been prescribed a liquid solution by prison doctors for medical reasons since October 30.
The Georgia Public Defender, or human rights ombudsperson, whose representatives visited Saakashvili in prison on Saturday, rejected the prison administration’s claims and corroborated Saakashvili’s version of events.
Saakashvili faces a six-year sentence after being convicted in absentia in 2018 of abuse of power and withholding evidence while he was president, charges he dismisses as politically motivated. Read more
Saakashvili led the Rose Revolution in 2003 which toppled veteran leader Edward Shevardnadze. Saakashvili was president from 2004 to 2013 before leaving the country and embarking on a new political career in Ukraine.
He was arrested on October 1 after returning to Georgia on the eve of local elections for what he described as a mission to rally the opposition and save the country.
Reporting by Alexander Marrow and Olzhas Asezov Editing by Gareth Jones and Ros Russell
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