Thousands rally in Georgia demanding release of Saakashvili

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TBILISI (Reuters) -Thousands of flag-waving supporters of former Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili, jailed after returning from exile this month, protested in Tbilisi on Thursday to demand his release as his lawyer called on them to help save the country.

The rally attracted the most protesters since pro-Western Saakashvili's arrest on Oct. 1 for abuse of power and concealing evidence when he was president, charges he says are politically motivated.

Saakashvili's lawyer read a statement by him from the stage as the crowd massed in the city centre.

"It's time to save Georgia now, that's why we have to be together ... This Carthage of evil, betrayal and oppression will certainly fall," the ex-president wrote, referring to the ancient city destroyed by war.

Many Georgian national flags were seen above the crowd, with some holding flags of the European Union and Ukraine, where Saakashvili lived before returning to his home country.

Saakashvili, president until 2013, led the Rose Revolution in 2003 that ended the presidency of Eduard Shevardnadze. He is a figurehead for some in the opposition, but derided as a clown by detractors in the ruling Georgian Dream party.

Protester Misha Mshvildadze said: "This is not justice what's going on with him, this is a political vendetta."

The day after Saakashvili's arrest, the United National Movement opposition party founded by the ex-president received 30.7% support at municipal elections, losing to the Georgian Dream party, which won 46.7%.

Nika Melia, chairman of UNM, is set to take part in the second round of Tbilisi's mayoral election on Oct. 30.

(Reporting by David Chkhikvishvili and Maria Tsvetkova; Editing by Nick Macfie and Alison Williams)

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