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Georgian Opposition Launches 'Permanent' Protests Demanding Saakashvili Be Freed From Prison


Opposition leader Nika Melia addresses protesters outside parliament in Tbilisi on October 31.
Opposition leader Nika Melia addresses protesters outside parliament in Tbilisi on October 31.

Georgia’s opposition United National Movement (ENM) has launched “permanent” protests calling for the release of jailed former President Mikheil Saakashvili, who is a month into a hunger strike.

"The only demand on the agenda today is freedom for Saakashvili,” ENM member Zaal Udumashvili told the protesters on November 2 as they gathered outside the prison in the city of Rustavi where Saakashvili is being held.

Another leader of the party, Koba Khabazi, said he would stay there overnight and called on other protesters to do the same.

A similar rally is being held near the Government House in Batumi, the coastal city where ENM leader Nika Melia told the crowd that the protests would not end until "the truth prevails" and Saakashvili is released.

Georgia has been plagued by political paralysis since parliamentary elections in 2020. The crisis has deepened since Saakashvili was jailed last month ahead of the first round of local elections and went on hunger strike.

The ENM, which was founded by Saakashvili, has alleged that runoff elections on October 30 were rigged in favor of the ruling Georgian Dream party.

Preliminary results from the runoff had Georgian Dream narrowly winning 19 of the 20 contested mayoral posts, including all five in the country's main cities.

ENM lawmaker Eka Kherkhulidze, who met Saakashvili in prison on November 2, told his colleagues that the ex-president was calling on them to boycott parliament.

The previous day, Saakashvili called for protests to "take back power" from the Georgian Dream government and "make them answer to the law."

He said he had lost almost 20 kilograms since the start of his hunger strike.

According to the Ministry of Justice, if Saakashvili's condition deteriorates to the point that he needs to be hospitalized, he will be transferred to a medical facility of the penitentiary service.

Saakashvili's lawyers and doctors say the facility is not equipped to monitor and treat Saakashvili. They also say Saakashvili will not be protected in the institution and demand he be transferred to a clinic in Tbilisi.

The United States joined the European Union on November 1 in voicing concern about the conduct of the elections.

The U.S. Embassy in Tbilisi said in a statement it agreed with international election observers that the vote was well administered, but it noted allegations of intimidation, pressure on voters, and an escalation of negative rhetoric impacting the vote.

The statement largely echoed the view of the European Union, which said the vote was marked by numerous shortcomings, especially in the "misuse of administrative resources and violent rhetoric by Georgia's political leaders" that only served to increase political polarization.

With reporting by

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