Georgia's ex-president Saakashvili agrees to end 50-day hunger strike

TBILISI, Nov 19 (Reuters) - Former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili agreed on Friday to end a 50-day hunger strike in prison that had raised political tensions in the former Soviet republic and drawn expressions of concern from the United States.

Saakashvili agreed to end his protest after authorities offered to move him to a military hospital from a prison hospital where an independent rights commissioner had said he was being abused by fellow inmates and not receiving appropriate medical treatment.

Reuters TV footage showed a convoy including two ambulances departing late on Friday from the prison where Saakashvili, 53, had been held in the capital Tbilisi, en route to the military hospital in the town of Gori.

In a statement quoted by the Sputnik Georgia news service, the former president said he would resume eating after the transfer but would never accept his "illegal detention".

Saakashvili was arrested on Oct. 1 after returning from exile to rally the opposition on the eve of local elections. He faces six years in prison after being convicted in absentia in 2018 of abusing his office during his 2004-2013 presidency, charges he rejects as politically motivated.

Georgia's human rights commissioner said on Wednesday that Saakashvili needed to be moved to intensive care to avoid the risk of heart failure, internal bleeding and coma after more than a month and a half on hunger strike.

Until Friday, he had insisted on being transferred to a civilian hospital.

Saakashvili took power via a peaceful "Rose Revolution" in 2003 and carried out pro-Western reforms during his term but led Georgia into a disastrous war with Russia.

His case has drawn thousands of his supporters onto the streets in recent weeks.

Georgia President Salome Zourabichvili has said Saakashvili will not be pardoned. The United States on Thursday urged Georgia to treat him "fairly and with dignity" and it was closely following his situation. read more

Reporting by Mark Trevelyan and Andrey Ostroukh; Writing by Mark Trevelyan; Editing by Alex Richardson and Grant McCool

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