The Prime Minister of Georgia said that former President Mikheil Saakashvili was arrested after returning to the country
The details of the arrest were not immediately clear, but Georgian television broadcast on Friday evening a video of Saakashvili in handcuffs, with a broad smile on his face, while he was being held by the police.
In an earlier Facebook video, Saakashvili said he was in Batumi, a Black Sea port and resort town, Georgia’s second largest. Earlier today, Georgian officials denied his presence in the country.
In the posts, Saakashvili called Saturday’s elections “crucial” for Georgia and called a rally in Tbilisi on Sunday, vowing to join in.
Saakashvili’s attempts to mobilize Georgians could upend the ruling party’s plans to secure dominance in the polls for mayors and local councils, which are widely seen as a vote of confidence in the national government and could lead to snap elections next year.
The European Union brokered a deal in April to ease the political crisis between the ruling Georgian Dream party and opposition groups, including Saakashvili’s United National Movement, the country’s second-largest political force.
The agreement stipulated that early parliamentary elections should be called in 2022 if Georgian Dream received less than 43% of all proportional votes in local elections in the country’s 64 municipalities.
It is unclear whether or not the EU agreement will be followed. In July, Georgian Dream withdrew from the agreement because the MNM had not signed it by then. The opposition party finally signed up this month, and Saakashvili urged his supporters to turn out forcefully at the polls.
Saakashvili was president from 2004 to 2013 and was known for his tireless efforts against endemic corruption in Georgia, but Georgians became increasingly uncomfortable with what they saw as his authoritarian tendencies and sometimes mercurial behaviour.
He came to power in the Flower Revolution demonstrations that prompted the former president, former Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze, to resign.
Saakashvili left the country shortly after the 2013 elections, in which he could not run, and were won by the candidate from Georgian Dream.
In 2018, Georgian courts convicted him and sentenced him to up to six years in prison.
Saakashvili moved to Ukraine, where he became governor of the corruption-plagued Odessa region, and took Ukrainian citizenship, revoking his Georgian citizenship. However, he fell out with then-President Petro Poroshenko, resigned and was stripped of Ukrainian citizenship.
He made his way back to Ukraine in 2017, but was eventually deported to Poland. After Poroshenko’s successor, Volodymyr Zelensky, came to power, Saakashvili returned to Ukraine and was appointed to the highest anti-corruption post.
Associated Press contributing writer Jim Haynes in Moscow.