The Georgian authorities have announced the arrest of former President Mikheil Saakashvili in Georgia hours after he returned from exile on the eve of the local elections, which are considered critical of the political constitution of the South Caucasus country.

Saakashvili has been held by police officers and taken to prison, Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili said on October 1, about 18 hours after Saakashvili announced his return to Georgia after an eight-year absence.

Details of the arrest were not immediately clear, but the Interior Ministry said the former president had been taken to Rustavi No. 12 Prison, about a 30-minute drive south of the capital, Tbilisi. The ministry distributed a video showing police officers handcuffing a smiling Saakashvili out of a car and leading him into a building.

Public ombudswoman Nino Lomjaria said she met with Saakashvili in prison. Lomjaria quoted him as saying he was arrested earlier that day in the capital Tbilisi and did not defy the police. Saakashvili also said he was on a hunger strike.

In a previous Facebook video, Saakashvili said he was in the Black Sea city of Batumi, Georgia’s second largest city.

Saakashvili, who was convicted of absenteeism in 2018 for crimes and has lived in Ukraine for the past few years, announced plans earlier this week to hold the country’s mayor and local assembly elections on May 2 “amid a protracted political crisis.

The polls are seen as a vote of confidence in the government in Tbilisi and could trigger early elections next year.

At first the government denied that he had entered the country, but then Gharibashvili said at a brief press conference: “I want to inform the public that the third President of Georgia, wanted Mikheil Saakashvili, has been arrested. He was transferred to prison. “

The prime minister called the 53-year-old ex-president a “criminal” and said that Georgian law enforcement agencies “had prior information about Saakashvili’s movements from Ukraine towards Georgia”.

“The relevant authorities worked in a coordinated manner and selected the time and place where the likelihood of external interference was minimal,” he added.

Gharibashvili did not provide any information about the circumstances of Saakashvili’s arrest.

The Ukrainian Foreign Ministry has convened the Georgian ambassador in Kiev “to obtain official information on the reasons and circumstances of such detention,” a spokesman for the ministry told the Ukrainian service of RFE / RL.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyi was concerned about the arrest and the “tone” of the statements from Georgia, wrote a spokesman on Facebook.

Saakashvili has been a Ukrainian citizen since 2015 and heads the Executive Committee of the National Reform Council of Ukraine, which was established the previous year, to carry out strategic planning and coordinate reforms.

Georgian President Salome Sourabichvili thanked law enforcement for arresting Saakashvili and accused him of attempting to destabilize the country.

Zourabichvili also said she would “never” pardon Saakashvili, who was sentenced in absentia to a total of nine years in prison after convicted of abuse of authority on two separate occasions.

He was convicted of attempting to cover up evidence related to the beating of an opposition MP in 2005 and the murder of a Georgian banker.

The politician considers the allegations against him to be politically motivated.

Saakashvili’s whereabouts remained unknown for hours after he said he was in Batumi in a video posted on Facebook on the morning of October 2:

Authorities later said there was no record of Saakashvili crossing the border and the ruling Georgian Dream Party accused him of faking his return amid a protracted political crisis.

Earlier this week, Saakashvili said on his Facebook page that “the fate of Georgia will be decided. Georgia’s survival is at stake, and that’s why I want to go with you on the evening of the 2nd so that I can take part in saving Georgia.”

He also posted a photo of his alleged plane ticket.

The Ukrainian service of RFE / RL quoted sources at Kiev-Boryspil International Airport as saying that Saakashvili “did not leave Ukraine through the airport”.

Georgian Deputy Interior Minister Aleksandr Darakhvelidze said the ex-president “did not cross the Georgian border,” said Ekho Kavkaza from RFE / RL.

“We have connected with the Ukrainian side. I can say with certainty and certainty that Mikheil Saakashvili did not leave Ukrainian territory, “said Darachvelidze.

Garibashvili had said the police would arrest Saakashvili as soon as he set foot on Georgian soil.

Parliament speaker Mamuka Mdinaradze, a member of Georgian Dream, described Saakashvili as a “fraudster”.

Mikheil Saakashvili was President of Georgia from January 2004 to November 2013 when he was voted out of office.

“All the video footage that Saakashvili distributes from Batumi at night is fake and the latest clowning,” said Givi Mikanadze, another high-ranking party official.

Ukrainian MP Yelyzaveta Yasko went on Facebook to urge the Ukrainian authorities to “protect” Saakashvili.

30-year-old Yasko also posted a video of Saakashvili and himself announcing their relationship.

Mikheil Saakashvili and Yelyzaveta Yasko when they appeared on their Facebook video announcing their relationship.

Mikheil Saakashvili and Yelyzaveta Yasko when they appeared on their Facebook video announcing their relationship.

“Today Lisa Yasko and I are together, we have our family, we want everyone to understand our story and wish us luck,” he said in the clip, which, according to Yasko, was recorded before he left for Georgia.

Tensions between the ruling Georgian Dream Party and the opposition, which Saakashvili supports, have been high in Georgia since the parliamentary elections last year, which, according to the opposition, were rigged.

International observers said at the time that the elections were competitive and that fundamental freedoms were generally respected.

Before Georgian Dream canceled a political agreement brokered by the European Union with the opposition, Georgian Dream agreed to call early parliamentary elections if it did not get at least 43 percent of the vote in local polls.

Saakashvili was President of Georgia from January 2004 to November 2013 when he was voted out of office.

In recent years he has held several high government posts in Ukraine and was briefly governor of the Odessa Black Sea region.

With coverage from AFP, AP, Reuters and the Ukrainian service of RFE / RL