Georgia holds local elections after former president's arrest

Georgians voted on Saturday (October 2) in local elections which could escalate a political standoff between the ruling party and the opposition a day after the arrest of ex-president and opposition politician Mikheil Saakashvili.

The elections in the country of around 3.9 million have taken on significance amid a months-long political crisis that erupted after last year's parliamentary election, which prompted the opposition to boycott the chamber.

The head of the main opposition party, the United National Movement (UNM) that Saakashvili founded, was arrested in February but released in May amid a push by the European Union to broker a deal to ease the standoff between the government and the party.

That deal collapsed over the summer when the ruling Georgian Dream party withdrew. The deal had said that Georgian Dream would need to call snap parliamentary elections if it failed to garner 43% of the vote at Saturday's local elections.

A recent opinion poll showed popular support for Georgian Dream at 36%, below that threshold.

Saakashvili, who left Georgia in 2013 and was sentenced to prision in absentia five years later, was arrested on Friday (October 1) after he returned to the country and called on his supporters to vote for the opposition and stage a post-election street protest.

President Salome Zourabichvili said after his arrest that she would not pardon him, and accused him of deliberately trying to destabilize the country.

Saakashvili's lawyer denounced his arrest on Friday as a "political detention."

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