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Supporters of Mikheil Saakashvili clash with police in Kyiv after stopping arrest

Saakashvili supporters have fought Ukrainian security forces in Kyiv after they prevented police from arresting the former Georgian leader. Saakashvili has called on Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko to step down.

Several hundred supporters of Mikheil Saakashvili fought with police in the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv on Tuesday after some of them were able to free the former president of Georgia from a police van.

Led by Saakashvili, protesters set up street barricades and gathered in front of Ukraine's parliament building, the Rada, where they demanded the impeachment of Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, according to a DW correspondent at the scene.

Watch video 01:35

Saakashvili: They’ve been menacing me for some time

The impromptu protest began after members of Ukraine's security service, the SBU, tried to arrest the 49-year-old outside of his apartment building.

Saakashvili initially resisted attempts to detain him by standing on the roof the building, but SBU officers eventually got Saakashvili out of the building and into a nearby van.

Around 1,000 pro-Saakashvili protesters then blocked the vehicle from leaving the area. Demonstrators eventually freed him after hours of police attempts to disperse them with tear gas.

Once out, Saakashvili encouraged the crowd to march on the Rada and seek Poroshenko's resignation.

"I urge you to start a peaceful protest to remove (President Petro) Poroshenko, you should not be afraid of anything," Saakashvili said with the yellow-and-blue Ukrainian flag draped around his neck. 

Dramatic arrest and escape

Russian press shared video footage of the botched arrest on social media.

In the above video posted by the mass-circulation Komsomolskaya Pravda, Saakashvili is seen telling the crowd "People, resist!" before being shoved into the police van.

The second video, posted by The Daily Telegraph's Alec Luhn, shows the moment supporters freed Saakashvili.

Protesters wrestle with the police around the police van in Kyiv (Reuters/V. Ogireno)

The van transporting Saakashvilli was prevented from leaving by angry crowd

Read more: Saakashvili on why he is challenging Poroshenko

Read more: Saakashvili plans march on Kyiv

The allegations against Saakashvili

The SBU had tried to detain Saakashvili on suspicion of assisting criminal organizations.

Ukraine's general prosecutor Yuri Lutsenko accused Saakashvili of receiving half a million dollars from Russian businessman Sergey Kurchenko to fund his activities in Ukraine. Saakashvili allegedly used the funds to "finance protests aimed at taking power and ending investigations against former representatives of the regime" led by former pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovich.

In a possible signal to Saakashvili supporters, however, the prosecutor also said that authorities wanted to put Saakashvili under house arrest with an electronic bracelet. Authorities also published a recording of what they said was a telephone conversation betweeen Saakashvili and Kurchenko.

Members of Ukraine's SBU intelligence agency tried to arrest Saakashvilli (Reuters/V. Ogirenko)

SWAT team managed to put Saakashvilli in the van, but were not able to drive off

In his speech in front of the parliament, Saakashvili accused Lutsenko and the SBU of a "provocation, skewing the facts, and creating fake recordings" adding that he had warned of this possibility days ago.

Saakashvili's feud with Poroshenko

The Georgia-born Saakashvili served as Georgian president between 2008 and 2013. Many blame his miscalculations for the one-month-long war between Russia and Georgia, which ended with Tbilisi's defeat.

He moved into Ukrainian politics after the country's breakup with its long-standing ally Russia in 2014 and was granted Ukrainian citizenship before taking over as governor in the Ukrainian region of Odessa in 2015.

Read more: Saakashvili's return might spell trouble for Ukraine government

However, he quit the post in 2016 amid a public spat with Ukraine President Petro Poroshenko, accusing Poroshenko of corruption and obstruction of Odessa's anti-graft efforts.

Saakashvili soon left Ukraine and was stripped of his Ukrainian citizenship, but managed to return to the country after his supporters broke through a police line at the Polish border in September.

'You would not wish something like that on your enemy'

The standoff in Kyiv also prompted a response from Moscow, with Vladimir Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov saying that Russia was following the events with "interest."

"Once again, Kyiv surprises us. Once again, Saakashvili suprises us," Peskov said. "He is in a complicated situation."

However, he also said the issue is primarily a Ukrainian concern.

"You would not even wish something like that on your enemy, even though, of course, we don't see the people of Ukraine as our enemies."

Watch video 02:38

DW speaks with Mikhail Saakashvili (November 2016)

amp, dj/se (AFP, Reuters, AP, Interfax, Ukrainski Novini)

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