Kyiv protests to Georgia over Saakashvili, 'insulting' Tbilisi

AFP , Tuesday 4 Jul 2023

Kyiv told Georgia's ambassador to temporarily leave the country on Tuesday, accusing Tbilisi of mistreating jailed ex-president and Ukrainian national Mikheil Saakashvili.

Georgia s imprisoned former president Mikheil Saakashvili
In this image made from video, Georgia s imprisoned former president Mikheil Saakashvili attends a court hearing from hospital via video link in Tbilisi, Monday, July 3, 2023. AP


Georgia's ruling party, which is seen as sympathetic to the Kremlin, criticised the Ukrainian decision, describing the move as "insulting".

Earlier this week, Saakashvili, Georgia's president in 2004-2013, appeared on television for the first time in months gaunt and weakened.

The 55-year-old -- who was detained on his return to Georgia from exile in Ukraine in 2021 -- has lost more than half his weight since he was detained in October 2021.

Ukraine's foreign ministry announced in a statement that it had summoned the Georgian ambassador and explained Tbilisi's treatment of Saakashvili was "absolutely unacceptable."

"The Georgian authorities must stop torturing the citizen of Ukraine," the statement read.

The images of Saakashvili in court on Tuesday prompted Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to demand that Georgian authorities "save" the former leader.

On Tuesday, Irakli Kobakhidze, the chairman of Georgia's ruling party, Georgian Dream, told journalists that the Ukrainian move was "insulting."

"But we wish to remain friends with Ukraine, even unilaterally, because the country is at war," he added.

Zelensky has said that he wants Saakashvili -- whom he made a Ukrainian citizen in 2019 -- to be transferred to a clinic in Ukraine or the West.

The pro-Western reformer was jailed after returning from exile on abuse of power charges that rights groups denounce as politically motivated.

Georgian authorities insist he is receiving adequate medical care. He is being kept in a civilian hospital.

They have downplayed his health risks, claiming that he deliberately refuses to take enough food to recover from a 50-day hunger strike he has kept to protest his imprisonment.

Georgia's main opposition party, the United National Movement founded by Saakashvili, announced a protest rally for Tuesday evening to demand Saakashvili's liberation.

The European Union and the United States have urged Georgia to ensure that Saakashvili is provided medical treatment and that his rights are protected.

The Council of Europe rights watchdog has branded Saakashvili a "political prisoner" and Amnesty International has called his treatment "apparent political revenge".

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