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Georgia’s former president Saakashvili arrested after returning from exile

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The opposition politician was sentenced in absentia for abuse of power and covering up evidence in two court cases in 2018

Mr Saakashvili had urged supporters to vote for anyone other than the ruling Georgian Dream party in the local elections

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<p>Mr Saakashvili had urged supporters to vote for anyone other than the ruling Georgian Dream party in the local elections</p>
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<p>Mr Saakashvili had urged supporters to vote for anyone other than the ruling Georgian Dream party in the local elections</p>
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Georgia’s ex-president, Mikheil Saakashvili, has been arrested after returning to the country during local elections despite facing prison.

The opposition politician was sentenced in absentia in Georgia in 2018 for abuse of power and covering up evidence in two court cases in 2018. He has called the convictions politically motivated.

The 53-year-old secretly returned from Ukraine, where he had been living, in order to help “save the country,” telling his supporters to vote for the opposition and to rally in the heart of the capital Tbilisi afterwards on Sunday.

Prime minister Irakli Garibashvili announced late on Friday that Mr Saakashvili had been detained and handed over to a detention facility, the TASS news agency reported.

A video of him smiling while in handcuffs later emerged after airing on Georgian television.

Mr Saakashvili had urged supporters to vote for any party other than the ruling Georgian Dream party in the local elections. It comes after last year’s parliament election triggered a political crisis in the country after Mr Saakashvili’s losing United National Movement claimed it was rigged.

International observers said at the time the election had been competitive and that fundamental freedoms had generally been respected.

Mr Saakashvili told supporters in a pre-recorded Facebook video: “In all likelihood, I’m being arrested now in Tbilisi, but I want to tell you, I’m not afraid. Go to the elections tomorrow, vote and we’ll celebrate victory on (Sunday).”

There were no immediate signs of protests after his arrest. The United National Movement chief, Nika Melia, accused the government of making Mr Saakashvili a “refugee” and said he had known the risks of returning home.

In a video posted early on Friday, Mr Saakashvili said: “Everyone must go to the polls and vote, and on October 3 we must fill the Freedom Square. If there are 100,000 people, no one can defeat us.”

He added: “You see – I risked everything – my life, freedom, everything, in order to come here. I want only one thing from you – go to the polls.”

Mr Saakashvili’s lawyer denounced his arrest on Friday as a “political detention”, Interfax Ukraine reported. However, theTASS news agency reported that President Salome Zourabichvili said she would not pardon Mr Saakashvili.

Ukraine’s foreign ministry said it had summoned the Georgian ambassador after his detention.

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