TBILISI -- Hundreds of protesters have gathered in the center of the Georgian capital to demand the transfer of jailed former President Mikheil Saakashvili to a high-profile civilian clinic as concerns grow over the health of the opposition figure, who has been on a hunger strike for 50 days.
At the November 19 rally organized by the opposition United National Movement (ENM), demonstrators marched from Republic Square toward the parliament building in Tbilisi.
The demonstration kicked off as Justice Minister Rati Bregadze told reporters that the government was proposing Saakashvili be moved to a military hospital.
The Giorgi Abramishvili Military Hospital in Gori "is a place where his health and safety will be protected to the fullest by the state," Bregadze said.
Saakashvili has demanded to be taken to a civilian hospital, which the government has refused, claiming that his supporters would storm such a facility.
Saakashvili, who founded the ENM, was arrested on October 1 when he returned after an eight-year absence to rally the opposition ahead of local elections. He then began a hunger strike.
His lawyer, Beka Basilaia, warned on November 18 that his client temporarily lost consciousness, but the Penitentiary Service later issued a statement insisting that Saakashvili was in stable condition.
The previous day, a medical panel set up by public ombudswoman Nino Lomjaria and her team said that Saakashvili's condition was "critical" and recommended that he be transferred to a civilian intensive-care unit, where he could be properly treated.
The panel said the former president was suffering from kidney and neurological problems that could potentially cause heart failure and gastrointestinal bleeding.
But Georgian officials called the assessment "fake" and refused to follow its recommendations.
Speaking to reporters earlier on November 19, U.S. Ambassador to Georgia Kelly Degnan expressed "great confidence" in Lomjaria and the medical team operating under her auspices.
Calling Saakashvili's condition "critical," she said the ex-president "needs full care to respond to emergencies that more and more likely to occur if he is not in an appropriate facility."
Lomjaria and several lawmakers have also been on hunger strike, demanding Saakashvili's transfer to a civilian clinic.
Saakashvili, who was president from 2004 to 2013, was convicted in absentia in 2018 for abuse of power and seeking to cover up evidence about the beating of an opposition member of parliament.
He is currently facing two separate trials related to a violent dispersal of opposition rallies in 2007 and alleged embezzlement of state funds.
Saakashvili says all the charges against him are politically motivated. Thousands of his supporters have protested his arrest since early October.