Court in Georgia orders arrest of ex-president Saakashvili

TBILISI (Reuters) - A court in Georgia issued an arrest warrant for former president Mikheil Saakashvili on Saturday in relation to abuse of power charges that his supporters say are politically motivated and which have prompted expressions of concern from Western leaders.

Former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili speaks during news conference in Kiev, December 7, 2013. REUTERS/Vasily Fedosenko

The Tblisi City Court issued the order for Saakashvili, former defense minister David Kezerashvili and former prosecutor general Zurab Adeishvili on similar charges.

Saakashvili, who has been living abroad since his presidency ended in November, is facing charges of abuse of power, and using excessive force against protesters in Tbilisi in November 2007 and a raid on a television station.

Kezerashvili and Adeishvili also live abroad.

Dozens of former officials have been arrested on charges such as abuse of power and corruption since Saakashvili’s party lost an election to the Georgian Dream coalition two years ago.

His allies say the arrests are politically motivated and threaten stability in the country of 4.5 million at a time when it needs foreign investment to support economic growth. Georgian Dream leaders deny the accusations.

“The government... moved a political prosecution against former officials to a new stage,” said David Bakradze, an opposition lawmaker. “This move will bring more confrontation and polarization to our society.”

The European Union earlier this week noted the charges “with concern”. “While none is above the law, prosecutions in Georgia should be transparent, proportionate, free of political motivation and adhering strictly to due process,” Catherine Ashton, the EU’s foreign policy chief, said in a statement.

“We urge all sides in Georgian politics to move beyond past conflicts and to focus on the country’s future,” she said.

Four US senators, including Republican John McCain, a senior member of the Senate foreign relations committee, echoed the EU’s concerns.

“President Saakashvili and his government were not faultless and it is important for any democracy to uphold its laws,” they said in a statement.

“But the pursuit of justice should not become a tool of political retribution and a source of national division, especially when Georgia has so many pressing challenges at present.”

Saakashvili, 46, came to power in the bloodless “Rose Revolution” of 2004.

On Friday he issued a video statement, seen by Reuters, in which he accused former prime minister and head of Georgian Dream Bidzina Ivanishvili of manipulating the judiciary.

“I am not going to turn up upon summoning of a prosecutor’s office controlled by a Gazprom shareholder,” he said, referring to Ivanishvili.

“I will be very far whenever they summon me, but I will be very close when the Georgian people call me,” he said.

Writing by Margarita Antidze; Editing by Lynne O’Donnell