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6 Nov, 2021 15:19

Georgian authorities claim jailed opposition figure directing insurrection

Georgian authorities claim jailed opposition figure directing insurrection

Protesters are poised to target government buildings in Georgia and cause traffic chaos in the capital, Tbilisi, at the direction of jailed ex-president Mikhail Saakashvili, the ex-Soviet country’s security service has alleged.

The warning about a brewing Maidan-style coup in Tblisi came on Saturday from Georgia’s State Security Service. It said supporters of the former president have planned disruptive protests in the capital starting this weekend.

The protesters will allegedly block government buildings, major roads, and the prison in which Saakashvili is currently serving his sentence, the statement said. The organizers “are actively discussing the possibility” of recruiting “certain officers of law enforcement agencies” and the “assassination of one of the leaders of the opposition,” it claimed.

The ultimate goal of the plot, which Georgian law enforcement said was being implemented under the personal direction of Saakashvili, is to violently overthrow the government.

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On Saturday, hundreds of protesters gathered outside of the jail in the city of Rustavi, where Saakashvili is held. They demanded that he be transferred to a civilian hospital instead of a prison clinic, the only option given to him by the Georgian Justice Ministry.

The politician, who maintains that his arrest was politically motivated, has declared a hunger strike while in jail even though its sincerity has been called into question.

The United National Movement – a political party founded by Saakashvili, which is now in opposition – on Saturday delivered an ultimatum to the government, demanding the ex-president be transferred to a hospital within 24 hours and vowing to stage a “major protest” in the Georgian capital of Tbilisi should their demands be ignored.

Saakashvili’s supporters also began setting up tents outside the prison and stated that they would stay until their demands were fulfilled.

The US-backed leader's stint at the helm of Georgia started with the Western-sponsored mass protests of 2003 that forced his predecessor Eduard Shevardnadze to resign. Saakashvili’s two terms in office were marked by much-lauded sweeping reforms and modernization, but also a brutal crackdown on the opposition, and a disastrous 2008 military offensive on the breakaway region of South Ossetia. The latter involved heavy shelling of the city of Tskhinvali, in which Russian peacekeepers were killed, and ended in a humiliating defeat and Moscow's formal recognition of the independence of two breakaway regions of Georgia.

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After fleeing the country in the wake of a 2013 ballot box loss, Saakashvili reinvented himself as an official in post-Maidan coup Ukraine, where he was given citizenship, but was ultimately pushed out of politics there. His home country tried him in absentia on charges related to violent suppression of mass protests and graft, sentencing him to a prison term of nine years.

Saakashvili smuggled himself back into Georgia in early October but was promptly arrested and put behind bars. Tbilisi refused to hand him over to Kiev, saying he would serve his sentence at home. The politician has declared a hunger strike and called on his supporters to pressure the government into releasing him from what he calls unlawful imprisonment.

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