December 15, 2019 / 12:51 PM / a month ago

Hundreds of Georgians demand release of doctor detained in separatist South Ossetia

FILE PHOTO: An Ossetian flag is seen on a closed road at the de facto border of Georgia's breakaway region of South Ossetia in Ergneti, Georgia, June 7, 2018. REUTERS/David Mdzinarishvili/File Photo

TBILISI (Reuters) - Hundreds of Georgians rallied on the boundary with breakaway South Ossetia on Sunday to demand the release of a prominent doctor who was detained after crossing into the region, controlled by Russia since a 2008 war.

Georgian villagers living near the loosely guarded rural boundary are often detained on similar grounds but the detention of the doctor, a high-profile local figure, has drawn more attention. Colleagues said he was trying to reach a patient.

Vazha Gaprindashvili, president of Georgia’s association of orthopaedists and traumatologists, was taken to South Ossetia’s regional center Tskhinvali on Nov. 9 and given two months of pretrial custody by separatist authorities, who said the doctor had crossed illegally into the territory.

Hundreds of people including Gaprindashvili’s relatives, colleagues, politicians and civic activists gathered on Sunday at the administrative boundary line in the village of Odzisi demanding Gaprindashvili’s release.

Some held posters saying “Freedom for Doctor Vazha!” and “Love for the Motherland is not a crime.”

The Georgian Foreign Ministry said last month the doctor’s Gaprindashvili’s detention “highlights the alarming situation of human rights violations in the occupied territories”.

The United States and rights group Amnesty International called for Gaprindashvili’s immediate release and reopening of all cross points along the South Ossetia boundary. Russian authorities had no immediate comment.

Russia won a brief war against fellow ex-Soviet republic Georgia in 2008, after which Moscow recognized two Georgian breakaway regions, South Ossetia and Abkhazia, as independent and deployed troops there. Russia and South Ossetia signed a deal in 2015 to integrate their security forces.

Reporting by Margarita Antidze; Editing by Mark Heinrich

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