TBILISI, Georgia (AP) – Thousands of protesters gathered in the Georgian capital of Tbilisi on Monday to demand the release of the country’s imprisoned former president Mikheil Saakashvili.
Saakashvili has remained behind bars since his arrest on October 1 after returning from Ukraine in an attempt to bolster opposition forces ahead of national municipal elections. The election was ultimately swept away by members of the ruling Georgian Dream party, but the opposition alleged fraud.
Saakashvili left Georgia in 2013 after his presidency ended due to term limits. He was subsequently stripped of his citizenship and sentenced in absentia to six years in prison for abuse of power. Saakashvili and his supporters dismiss the charges as politically motivated.
Supporters claim Saakashvili’s health deteriorated severely as he went on a hunger strike in prison, but Georgian authorities insist his vital signs are normal. Justice Minister Rati Begradze said last week that Saakashvili consumes cereals and juices.
Supporters of Saakashvili lobbied for her transfer from a prison in Rustavi, 30 kilometers (20 miles) south of Tbilisi, to a private clinic, but authorities rejected the request, describing her as part of a suspected opposition plot to stir up unrest.
On Monday, Saakashvili was transferred from Rustavi prison to a hospital in Gldani prison in Tbilisi.
Speaking to opposition supporters in Freedom Square in Tbilisi, Nika Melia, president of the opposition United National Movement, said that by forcibly transferring Saakashvili to a prison hospital, “the government has crossed all borders and red lines “.
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