TBILISI, Oct 14 (Reuters) – Thousands of flag-waving supporters of former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, jailed after returning from exile on Oct. 1, gathered in Tbilisi city centre on Thursday to demand his release.
The rally attracted the most protesters since pro-Western Saakashvili’s arrest for abuse of power and concealing evidence when he was president, charges he says were politically motivated. read more
Saakashvili, who went on hunger strike in prison on Oct. 1, addressed the crowd in a written statement read from a stage by his lawyer.
“It’s time to save Georgia now, that’s why we have to be together… This Carthage of evil, betrayal and oppression will certainly fall,” the ex-president wrote, referring to the ancient city destroyed by war.
Many Georgian national flags were seen above the crowd, with some holding flags of the European Union and Ukraine, where Saakashvili lived before returning to his home country.
The politician who led the Rose Revolution in 2003 that ended the presidency of Eduard Shevardnadze is a figurehead for some in the opposition, but derided as a clown by detractors in the ruling Georgian Dream party.
The day after Saakashvili’s arrest, the United National Movement opposition party founded by the ex-president received 30.7% support at municipal elections, losing to the Georgian Dream party, which won 46.7%.
Nika Melia, chairman of UNM, is set to take part in the second round of Tbilisi’s mayoral election on Oct. 30, which Saakashvili said in his statement would be the last step towards ending the ruling regime.
Reporting by David Chkhikvishvili and Maria Tsvetkova; Editing by Nick Macfie
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