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21st Oct 2018

EU urges Georgia not to jail Saakashvili

  • Saakashvili (l) with Barroso in Brussels on Tuesday (Photo: ec.europa.eu)

The EU has urged Georgia not to prosecute its outgoing President, Mikheil Saakashvili, on the eve of an EU summit.

European Commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso said in Brussels alongside Saakashvili on Tuesday (29 October): "It's in the interests of Georgia and all Georgians to solve political problems by political means, for example, elections, and not in the courts."

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He added: "We expect Georgia to honour its obligations, such as ensuring that the courts operate free of political influence. We are completely against any form of selective justice."

Saakashvili noted: "The current Prime Minister of Georgia has threatened me with court proceedings on many occasions. He even said on which charges and he mentioned the prison in which I am supposed to end up … This is definitely not in line with democratic principles or with our European aspirations."

Saakashvili, who led Georgia for the past 10 years, is set to lose his presidential immunity in mid-November after the inauguration of its new head of state, Giorgi Margvelashvili.

The new ruling party in Georgia, the so-called Georgian Dream coalition led by PM Bidzina Ivanishvili, has already put on trial several Saakashvili-era ministers, on charges including abuse of power and embezzlement.

Anecdotes of Saakashvili's excesses while in office abound in Georgia.

A Georgian government contact told EUobserver Saakashvili once put forward a plan to dynamite a mountain in south-east Georgia because it aggravated rainfall on his pet project: the Black Sea gambling den of Batumi.

His term was also marked by police brutality against opposition demonstrators, torture of prisoners and electronic snooping on his own citizens.

But on the other hand, he is seen as helping to pull Georgia out of Russia's sphere of influence.

He also purged it, to a great extent, of organised crime and corruption among low-level officials and police.

EU officials are concerned that if Saakashvili goes on trial it could create a bad atmosphere ahead of an EU summit with former Soviet states in Vilnius in late November.

The EU and Georgia aim to initial a political association and free trade pact at the event.

But "selective justice" against former leaders is already threatening plans to sign a similar deal in Vilnius with Ukraine.

For his part, Giga Bokeria, a senior politician in Saakashvili's UNM party believes Ivanishvili wants to destroy the UNM so that he can run the country from behind the scenes.

There are also fears Ivanishvili is playing into Russian hands after he recently said "why not?" on joining Russia's Customs Union instead of staying on the EU path.

"Georgian people are deeply pro-European. If he was to announce that we will join the Customs Union, there would be mass-scale protests on the streets overnight," Bokeria told this website at the time.

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