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Hundreds of Georgians have joined a protest on the boundary with the Caucasus country’s breakaway region of South Ossetia to demand the release of a prominent doctor who was detained after crossing into the Russia-controlled region.

Georgian villagers living near the loosely guarded rural boundary are often detained on similar grounds. But the detention of Vazha Gaprindashvili by Russia-backed separatists, a high-profile local figure, has drawn more attention.

Colleagues said Gaprindashvili was traveling to South Ossetia in an attempt to reach a patient who needed medical treatment.

Gaprindashvili, president of Georgia’s association of orthopedists and traumatologists, was taken to South Ossetia’s regional center Tskhinvali on November 9 and given two months of pretrial custody by separatist authorities, who said he had crossed illegally into the territory.

Hundreds of people — including Gaprindashvili’s relatives, colleagues, politicians, and civic activists — gathered on December 15 at the administrative boundary line in the village of Odzisi to demand Gaprindashvili’s release.

Some held posters saying “Freedom for Doctor Vazha!” and “Love for the Motherland is not a crime.”

Georgia’s Foreign Ministry said in November that Gaprindashvili’s detention “highlights the alarming situation of human rights violations” in Georgian territory that has been occupied by Russian military forces since the Russia-Georgia war in 2008.

The United States and the human rights group Amnesty International have called for Gaprindashvili’s immediate release and a reopening of all crossing points along the South Ossetia boundary.

Russian authorities had no immediate comment.

Since Russian military forces defeated Georgia in their brief 2008 war, Moscow has recognized two Georgian breakaway regions, South Ossetia and Abkhazia, as independent and has deployed troops there.

Russia and South Ossetia’s de facto separatist government signed a deal in 2015 to integrate their security forces.

Based on reporting by Reuters and AP