TBILISI, Georgia (AP) — Tens of thousands of supporters of Georgia’s jailed former president jammed a square in the center of the country’s capital Thursday to demand his release.
The rally of some 30,000 people in Tbilisi’s Freedom Square underlined tensions ahead of mayoral runoff elections in Georgia’s six largest cities.
The opposition United National Movement, founded by former president Mikheil Saakashvili, believes it has strong chances to win those races and bolster its position against the ruling Georgian Dream Party.
Saakashvili, who left Georgia in 2014 after his second term ended, was arrested Oct. 1 after returning to the country from Ukraine. He was convicted in absentia of abuse of power during his 2004-2013 presidency, and there are several other open cases against him.
He said he risked the return in order to try to galvanize the opposition.
Nationwide municipal elections that were held two days after Saakashvili’s arrest saw Georgian Dream retain control in most communities, but mayoral runoffs in the largest cities will be held Oct. 30 because no candidate won an absolute majority.
“If opposition candidates win, it will dramatically change the picture in the country,” said Gigi Ugulava, a prominent opposition politician.
Saakashvili announced a hunger strike hours after his arrest and his doctor said this week that his condition was deteriorating.