Georgia open to move hunger-striking ex-leader to military hospital

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Saakashvili's arrest deepened a political crisis and spurred some of Georgia's largest anti-government protests in a decade (AFP/Vano SHLAMOV)
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Georgia's government said Friday it was open to moving ex-leader Mikheil Saakashvili, who has been on hunger strike for 50 days, to a military hospital after doctors warned he risked death in his current prison clinic.

The announcement came after Saakashvili fainted and doctors urged authorities to move him to a civilian clinic, saying his life was in danger.

He launched a hunger strike after being imprisoned upon his return from exile in Ukraine on October 1, saying his arrest was political.

Georgian authorities had initially rejected the medical recommendations, but Justice Minister Rati Bregadze said Friday they were open to moving Saakashvili.

"Our proposal is to move him to a military hospital," Bregadze said at a press conference.

Addressing the proposal to the opposition, he said authorities could move him to such a facility in the city of Gori, some 90 kilometres (55 miles) west of the capital Tbilisi.

"This is a place where his health and security will be protected at most by the state," Bregadze added.

He also accused the opposition of "exploiting Saakashvili's health for its petty political ends."

On Thursday, Saakashvili fainted and was moved to an intensive care ward in the prison hospital.

Doctor Giorgi Grigolia told AFP Friday that his condition was "life threatening" and that "he must be moved to a civilian clinic without delay."

He had seen Saakashvili late on Thursday, after he had fainted.

He cited a number of neurological and heart conditions that "could become irreversible, fatal without a proper care, which is impossible in the medical facility where he is currently being treated."

Grigolia is part of a council of medics set up by ombudsperson Nino Lomjaria.

- 'Denied proper care' -

On Wednesday the council said Saakashvili's "current status is assessed as critical" and that he faced a risk of fatal complications in the "immediate future."

The prison hospital where Saakashvili is being treated fails to meet his medical needs, it added, calling for his immediate transfer to a civilian clinic.

Saakashvili's lawyer Dito Sadzaglishvili said the country's prison service was "guided by political motives, rather than medical considerations."

"Despite repeated calls by doctors, the government is denying Saakashvili his right to proper medical care," Sadzaglishvili told AFP.

A spokesman of the United States Department of State, Ned Price, on Thursday night urged Georgian authorities to "treat Mr. Saakashvili fairly and with dignity."

Saakashvili's arrest has deepened a political crisis that erupted after parliamentary polls last year that the opposition denounced as fraudulent.

It has also spurred some of the largest anti-government protests in a decade.

Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili sparked an uproar recently by saying Saakashvili "has the right to commit suicide."

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