Georgia holds vote after ex-president Saakashvili’s held

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Tbilisi

Georgians were voting Saturday in municipal elections, a day after ex-president Mikheil Saakashvili’s arrest raised the stakes in the polls seen as a key test for the increasingly unpopular ruling party.

The detention on Friday of Georgia’s foremost opposition figure upon his return from exile deepened a protracted political crisis in the Caucasus nation.

Founder of Georgia’s main opposition party, the United National Movement (UNM) and president between 2003-2013, the Saakashvili, 53, said Friday he had secretly returned from Ukraine, where he heads a Ukrainian government agency steering reforms.

The flamboyant pro-Western reformer, who in 2003 led the peaceful “Rose Revolution” that ousted Communist-era elites, was detained shortly afterwards over a 2018 conviction in absentia on abuse of office charges.

He has denied any wrongdoing, denounced his sentence of six years in jail as politically motivated, and following his arrest went on hunger strike.—AFP

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