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More Protests Planned In Georgia After Ex-President Alleges Abuse In Prison Hospital

People rally in support of jailed former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili in Tblisi on November 8.
People rally in support of jailed former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili in Tblisi on November 8.

TBILISI -- Opposition parties in Georgia are planning more protests after jailed former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, who has been on a hunger strike for more than a month, said he had been abused by guards at a prison hospital.

Some representatives and supporters of opposition parties spent the night at the government administration building in Tbilisi after rallying on Freedom Square on November 8. Several hundred people were in the area in the morning on November 9, and police set up metal barriers, RFE/RL's Georgian Service reported.

At the rally, Nika Melia, the leader of the United National Movement (ENM), announced the main opposition party's three demands: the transfer of Saakashvili to a civilian clinic, his release from detention, and a repeat of municipal and mayoral elections.

The rally was preceded by Saakashvili's transfer from a prison in Rustavi to the Gldani prison clinic amid concerns about his health.

Saakashvili on November 8 said he had been verbally and physically abused by guards when he arrived at the clinic. He said in a letter released through his lawyer that they punched him on the neck and dragged him by his hair on the ground.

In a letter posted on Facebook, Saakashvili said he will only see his own doctors and will not cooperate with medical staff at the prison.

Saakashvili's lawyers and personal doctor say the 53-year-old former president's condition is deteriorating and have demanded that he be transferred to a private clinic outside the prison system.

The government has rejected these demands, saying that if necessary, he would be transferred to a prison hospital.

Saakashvili's supporters and activists of ENM have been protesting his incarceration outside the Rustavi prison where he began a hunger strike after being detained on October 1 upon his return from eight years in self-exile to campaign for the opposition ahead of local elections.

On November 8, supporters rallied in the central Freedom Square in Tbilisi, demanding Saakashvili's release and his transfer to a civilian hospital.

Earlier on November 8, Saakashvili vowed to continue his hunger strike "until death," while the Penitentiary Service issued a video over the weekend showing the former president eating unspecified items and drinking from a bottle in the detention center's medical room.

In an earlier statement on Facebook, Saakashvili called on his supporters and opposition politicians to focus on what he called "stolen elections and returning the government to the Georgian people" instead of focusing on his hunger strike.

"I returned [to Georgia], voluntarily became a hostage, and intended to stay on hunger strike until death to contribute into liberation our country, to its efforts to preserve its European path...," Saakashvili said.

Meanwhile, on November 5, Justice Minister Rati Bregadze said Saakashvili also consumed porridge in addition to juice.

A day later, the Penitentiary Service issued a video showing the former president eating some food and drinking what the service said was juice in a medical room in the detention center in Rustavi, and issued the video to prove it.

Saakashvili then announced that day that he had stopped receiving vitamins and juice in protest.

Saakashvili, who was president from 2004 to 2013, left the country shortly after the presidential election of 2013 and was convicted in absentia in 2018 for abuse of power and seeking to cover up evidence about the beating of an opposition member of parliament.

Saakashvili has said the charges against him are politically motivated.

The ENM was outpolled decisively by the ruling Georgian Dream party in the October 3 nationwide municipal and mayoral vote.

The opposition has said that Georgian Dream, founded by billionaire and Saakashvili's rival Bidzina Ivanishvili, rigged the runoff on October 30. Georgian Dream won the mayoral races in the country's five biggest cities as a result of the vote.

Georgia has been plagued by political paralysis since parliamentary elections in 2020.

With reporting by AFP

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