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Saakashvili. Photo: Sergii Kharchenko/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili remains in jail after returning to the country ahead of municipal elections on Sunday despite having been sentenced in absentia to six years in prison for alleged abuse of office.

Driving the news: The U.S. State Department Monday urged Georgian authorities to “ensure that Mr. Saakashvili is afforded fair treatment.” Georgian authorities, meanwhile, have been attempting to signal that international pressure will have no effect.

  • "No one on the planet can convince us to release Saakashvili," Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili said, adding that "he better behave or we will bring against him fresh charges and others will join him."
  • President Salome Zurabishvili said she would “never pardon” him.

The backstory: Saakashvili dominated Georgian politics from 2004 to 2013 and was praised for his political and economic reforms but criticized for his authoritarian tendencies. Once in exile, the larger-than-life figure established himself as a political player in Ukraine.

  • He has also been the leading antagonist of the ruling Georgian Dream party, which is steered from behind the scenes by oligarch Bidzina Ivanishvili and has overseen several years of democratic backsliding.
  • Saakashvili’s United National Movement party rejected the results of the elections, which were won by Georgian Dream, and international observers also expressed some concerns.

What to watch: This crisis could be too much for Georgia's crumbling democratic institutions to handle, Carl Bildt writes in the Washington Post.

Go deeper

"Atmospheric river" to whiplash Northern California from drought to flood

A map depicting 24-hour preciptation forecast (inches) ending Monday at 5a.m. local time. Photo: NOAA

A series of powerful "atmospheric river" storms are set dump historic amounts of rainfall across parts of drought-stricken California and the Pacific Northwest from Saturday night, forecasters warn.

Why it matters: A strong atmospheric river, packing large amounts of moisture, is forecast to whiplash Northern California from drought to flood.

10,000 trees near giant sequoia groves to be removed after fires

A firefighter looks up at a giant sequoia tree after fire burned through the Sequoia National Forest near California Hot Springs, California, on Sept. 23. Photo: Patrick T. Fallon/AFP via Getty Images

"Upwards of" 10,000 trees near giant sequoia groves have been "weakened by drought, disease, age, and/or fire" and must be removed in the wake of California's wildfires, the Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks announced.

Why it matters: The damage to these trees, considered "national treasures," and work to remove them means a nearby key highway must remain closed to visitors as they have "the potential to strike people, cars, other structures, or create barriers to emergency response services," per a statement from the national parks.

Obama stumps for McAuliffe, urges Virginians not "to go back to the chaos"

Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

Former President Barack Obama framed a Nov. 2 gubernatorial race as a bellwether for the Democratic Party and the country, telling a crowd at a campaign event for Terry McAuliffe on Saturday that "I believe you, right here in Virginia, are going to show the rest of the country and the world that we're not going to indulge in our worst instincts."

Why it matters: With just over a week to go before Election Day in the Commonwealth, McAuliffe is bringing out the big guns. The 44th president appeared on the campus of Virginia Commonwealth University to urge supporters to get to the polls.