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UNM Leader Announces Mass Hunger Strike

Addressing a rally in downtown Tbilisi in support of jailed Mikheil Saakashvili, United National Movement chair Nika Melia announced a mass hunger strike to demand the release of the ex-President.

Melia said he would not advise or obligate anyone to start the hunger strike, but noted that the more massive it is the “more positive the result will be.”

“The whole world shall see that we do not conform with the third President being taken hostage,” the opposition told the public gathered on Rustaveli Avenue, in front of the Parliament building.

He acknowledged that although the hunger strike is a non-violent form of protest, it is still a severe method. “This was a tough decision,” Melia noted.

“There exists a reality that we cannot run from,” he also said, adding “We must fight to free the person taken by hostage.” The opposition leader argued that Saakashvili’s incarceration is “the premise for each of us to finally defeat the regime.”

The announcement comes as Georgian President Salome Zurabishvili aims to facilitate a “national reconciliation” to overcome political polarization and division among the public.

During the demonstration today, Melia hailed the President’s initiative and vowed that “we, on our part, will do everything if there is even the tiniest bit of chance of [national] accord.”

He claimed that division among the Georgian public and political polarization is only in the interests of the Georgian Dream party.

Melia reiterated that the hunger strike is not aimed at hindering the President’s aspirations for reaching “national reconciliation,” and vowed he would also actively participate in the process to avoid a potential civil conflict.

As for the location of the strike, the opposition leader said that the necessary infrastructure will be set up in the vicinity of the UNM headquarters in Tbilisi for the protesters to stay.

The opposition leader later told Mtavari Arkhi TV that over 300 people had agreed to participate in the mass hunger strike.

The UNM argues the incarceration of Mikheil Saakashvili is politically motivated and continues to demand his release since the ex-President was arrested on October 1 following his unexpected return in Georgia after years in exile.

Saakashvili, sentenced in two abuse of power cases and also charged with misappropriation of public funds, exceeding official authority and illegal border crossing, also believes his imprisonment to be politically motivated.

The ex-President is currently undergoing treatment in Gori military hospital following a 50-day-long hunger strike he launched after being apprehended in Tbilisi.

This article was last updated at 14:01, December 22.

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