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Georgia's Ex-Prime Minister And Top Cop Goes Free, Declares Return To Politics

Former Georgian Prime Minister Vano Merabishvili waves to supporters after being released from prison on February 20.

Vano Merabishvili, the former Georgian prime minister and interior minister who was credited for reforming the nation's police force, was released from prison after serving nearly seven years for embezzlement and abuse of power.

Immediately upon his release on February 20, Merabishvili announced that he will return to politics, vowing to push aside the current government led by billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili's ruling Georgian Dream party.

Outside the prison where he spent six years and nine months in an isolated cell, Merabishvili thanked everyone who supported him while he was incarcerated, saying it "allowed me to preserve my strength, energy, and belief in order to continue fighting and remove the current regime [from power] already this year."

Merabishvili emerged as a key government figure after Georgia's 2003 Rose Revolution that brought Mikheil Saakashvilli to the presidency. Merabishvilli served as Saakashvilli's interior minister from 2004 to 2012 before becoming prime minister.

He was arrested in May 2013 soon after power switched from Saakashvilli's United National Movement (ENM) party to Georgian Dream, the latter of which was founded ahead of the 2012 parliamentary elections by tycoon Ivanishvili. Leaders of Georgian Dream began referring to Saakashvili's presidency as a "bloody regime."

Merabishvili was subsequently accused of abusing his office, bribing voters, and ordering the beating of a person, for which he was found guilty. He was convicted again in 2017 of abuse of power. He and his supporters have said the charges against him were politically motivated.

In June 2016, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that the detention of Merabishvili was being used by Georgian officials for other motives in violation of the European Convention of Human Rights.