Former Georgian President Saakashvili Returns from Exile

Former president Mikheil Saakashvili said Friday he had returned from exile to Georgia, despite threats of arrest. His return comes ahead of local elections in the country in the Caucasus region which is gripped by a protracted political crisis.

“I risked my life and my freedom to return,” Saakashvili said in a video message on Facebook. He added that he was in Batumi, a city in western Georgia on the Black Sea coast.

“I ask everyone to vote and vote for the United National Movement,” he said, referring to Georgia’s main opposition party he founded.

The flamboyant, pro-Western 53-year-old served as Georgia’s president from 2004 to 2013 and rose to power following a wave of street protests.

He asked his supporters to gather on the main Tbilisi street on Sunday.

Mikheil Saakashvili, former president of Georgia and opposition figure in Ukraine, arrives for a press conference in Warsaw, Poland, February 13, 2018, after being deported from Ukraine.

Mikheil Saakashvili, former president of Georgia and opposition figure in Ukraine, arrives for a press conference in Warsaw, Poland, February 13, 2018, after being deported from Ukraine.

Earlier on Friday (10/1), he wrote on his Facebook page, “Good morning. I’m back in Georgia after eight years.”

Interior ministry Georgina told the independent television channel Formula that “Saakashvili does not cross Georgian borders.”

The return of Saakashvili from Ukraine, where he heads a government body directing reforms has raised the stakes ahead of Saturday’s municipal elections, seen as a key test for the increasingly unpopular ruling party.

Saakashvili is wanted by Georgian authorities on charges of abuse of office, which he says has a political background.

He left Georgia in 2013 when his second and last term as president came to an end.

On Monday, he announced his plans to return home from Ukraine, saying he would fly to Georgia’s capital Tbilisi on Saturday evening and posting a photo of his ticket.

Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili addresses the United Nations General Assembly, September 23, 2021.

Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili addresses the United Nations General Assembly, September 23, 2021.

Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili said at the time that “if Saakashvili sets foot on Georgian soil, he will be immediately arrested and taken to prison.”

Western countries have accused Georgian authorities of looking for political wrongdoing. Interpol rejected a request from Tbilisi to issue a search, arrest and extradition order for Saakashvili.

Georgia plunged into political turmoil last year when opposition parties denounced the election, which was narrowly won by the ruling Georgian Dream party, which it called fraudulent.

In May, European Council President Charles Michel brokered an inter-party agreement in which the Georgia Dream promised to hold accelerated legislative elections if the party won less than 43 percent of the vote in Saturday’s local elections.

But in July, the ruling party unilaterally withdrew from the deal, prompting strong criticism from the European Union and the US.

In his Monday video message, Saakashvili insisted the EU-brokered deal was still in effect, saying the upcoming election “is a referendum on removing Georgian Dream founder Bidzina Ivanishvili from power.” [uh/lt]

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