Hundreds of thousands rally in Georgia in support of ex-president Mikhail Saakashvili, who is currently imprisoned.
Thousands of Georgians took to the streets of Tbilisi on Thursday to demand the release of ex-president and opposition leader Mikheil Saakashvili, who is currently imprisoned.
Demonstrators filled the city’s Freedom Square and main avenue, Rustaveli Avenue, chanting Saakashvili’s nickname “Misha!” and waving national flags, with an AFP correspondent estimating the throng at around 60,000 people.
On his return from exile in Ukraine in early October, Saakashvili, Georgia’s president from 2004 to 2013, was arrested and imprisoned.
Doctors have voiced concern over the 53-year-old founder of Georgia’s biggest opposition movement, the United National Movement (UNM), who has declared a hunger strike.
In 2018, the flamboyant pro-Western reformer was found guilty of abuse of office and sentenced to six years in prison in his absence. He is adamant in his denial of any wrongdoing.
Nika Gvaramia, Saakashvili’s lawyer, delivered a speech to the crowd, urging for the government of Bidzina Ivanishvili, his enemy and powerful oligarch, to be “destroyed” in the impending second round runoff of local elections.
The letter stated, “Georgia must return to its pro-Western course and become a light of democracy, reforms, and development.”
“It is past time for Georgia to be saved via national unity and healing.”
One of the marchers, 28-year-old lawyer Kato Topuridze, called Saakashvili’s imprisonment a “great injustice” and demanded that he be released immediately.
Gela Chkheidze, a 53-year-old demonstrator, said: “Georgia’s democratic triumph is symbolized by Saakashvili. We shall not give up till he is liberated.” According to the independent Pirveli TV station, kilometer-long motorcades carrying Saakashvili loyalists arrived in Tbilisi on Thursday morning.
Before the rally, riot police in buses were stationed outside the parliament building.
More than 70,000 people had signed an internet petition requesting Saakashvili’s release the day before, a demand that was repeated in new graffiti on buildings and sidewalks across the country.
“Inmate Saakashvili’s primary purpose is to stir up destabilization and turmoil in the country,” Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili told journalists before of the demonstration.
Despite having no official political position, Saakashvili has called on his fans to mobilize against Ivanishvili, who formed the ruling Georgian Dream party and is largely thought to be the man in control in Georgia.
After gaining Ukrainian citizenship in 2016, Saakashvili’s Georgian passport was revoked, and he went on to lead a government body overseeing changes in Ukraine.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has stated that he will pursue Saakashvili’s release, while Georgian officials have stated that they will not send or pardon the former president.
It was broadcast on television. The Washington Newsday Brief News is a daily newspaper published in Washington, D.C.