Several hundreds of supporters of former Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili, now a Ukrainian opposition leader, have managed to free him as he was being arrested by Ukrainian police in the capital, Kiev.
On Tuesday, Saakashvili’s supporters surrounded the police van that was supposed to take him away from his residence in downtown Kiev and blocked it. After hours of standoff, during which security forces fired tear gas to unsuccessfully disperse the crowd, Saakashvili was freed.
Saakashvili, who was still wearing his handcuffs, led his supporters — some several hundred — in a rally toward the parliament, while urging them to rise against President Petro Poroshenko “and his gang.”
With the handcuffs still hanging off from one wrist, the opposition leader told his supporters, “I’ll keep these handcuffs. I’ll save them for Poroshenko, for [Prosecutor General Yuriy] Lutsenko.”
“An organized criminal group has seized power in our beloved Ukraine,” he told the crowd. “I call on everyone, every real Ukrainian, to demand his resignation.”
He called on “all Ukrainians to take to the streets and drive out the thieves.”
“Do not let Poroshenko and his gang continue the robbery,” Saakashvili said. “Ukraine is under a real threat. These people have completely usurped power.”
After he was freed from police custody, Saakashvili was given an ultimatum by Lutsenko, the prosecutor general, to turn himself in within 24 hours or ‘the entire law-enforcement system of Ukraine will do everything necessary” to bring him into custody.
Lutsenko has charged Saakashvili of having received 500,000 dollars from Russian sources to fund the rallies against the pro-Western Ukrainian government.
The opposition leader, however, said the accusations against him were “all fake” and vowed to continue resisting arrest in Ukraine.
Poroshenko granted Saakashvili Ukrainian citizenship back in 2015 to allow him to become governor of the southern region of Odessa. The pro-reform politician, however, stepped down in November 2016 after accusing Poroshenko of blocking efforts to uproot corruption. Later in July 2017, Poroshenko stripped Saakashvili of his Ukrainian citizenship.
Saakashvili served as president of Georgia from 2004 to 2013, but he lost the citizenship of his native country after he was granted the Ukrainian passport. Under Georgia’s law, individuals are not allowed to hold dual nationality.
Saakashvili, now a stateless person, is also wanted on criminal charges in Georgia.