Exiled ex-president Saakashvili says he is back in Georgia

Mikheil Saakashvili's return from Ukraine has raised the stakes ahead of municipal elections in Georgia. PHOTO: MIKHEIL SAAKASHVILI/FACEBOOK

TBILISI (AFP) - Ex-president Mikheil Saakashvili said on Friday (Oct 1) that he had returned from exile to Georgia, despite a looming arrest and ahead of local elections in the Caucasus country gripped by a protracted political crisis.

"I risked my life and freedom to be back," Saakashvili said in a video on Facebook, adding that he was in Georgia's western city of Batumi on the Black Sea coast.

"I call on everyone to go to the elections and vote for the United National Movement," he said, referring to Georgia's main opposition party that he had founded.

Earlier on Friday, he wrote on Facebook: "Good morning. I am back in Georgia after eight years."

Georgia's Interior Ministry, however, told the independent Formula TV that "Saakashvili did not cross Georgia's state border".

Saakashvili's return from Ukraine - where he heads a government agency steering reforms - has raised the stakes ahead of Saturday's municipal elections that are seen as a key test for the increasingly unpopular ruling party.

The 53-year-old is wanted by Georgian authorities on abuse of office charges, which he says are politically motivated.

Saakashvili left Georgia in 2013 when his second and last term as president ended.

On Monday, he announced his planned return from Ukraine, saying he will be flying to Georgia's capital Tbilisi on Saturday evening.

Georgia's Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili said at the time that "if Saakashvili sets foot on Georgian soil, he will be immediately arrested and brought to prison".

Join ST's Telegram channel here and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.