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Saakashvili supporters clash with police in Kyiv

December 5, 2017

Mikheil Saakashvili's supporters fought Ukrainian security forces in Kyiv after preventing police from arresting the former Georgian leader. He has called on Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko to step down.

Saakashvili holding up a victory sign with handcuffs still on his wrist
Image: Reuters/G. Garanich

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.

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, but SBU officers eventually got him out of the building and into a nearby van.

About 1,000 supporters 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 Poroshenko," Saakashvili said with the yellow-and-blue Ukrainian flag draped around his neck. "You should not be afraid of anything." 

Dramatic 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 when supporters freed Saakashvili.

Protesters wrestle with the police around the police van in Kyiv
The van transporting Saakashvilli was prevented from leaving by angry crowdImage: Reuters/V. Ogireno

Read more: Saakashvili on why he is challenging Poroshenko

Read more: Saakashvili plans march on Kyiv

The accusations

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

General Prosecutor Yuriy Lutsenko accused Saakashvili of receiving half a million dollars from the Russian businessman Sergey Kurchenko to fund his activities in Ukraine. Lutsenko said Saakashvili had used the funds to "finance protests aimed at taking power and ending investigations against former representatives of the regime" led by former pro-Russia President Viktor Yanukovych.

In a possible signal to Saakashvili's supporters, however, the prosecutor also said 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
SWAT team managed to put Saakashvilli in the van, but were not able to drive offImage: Reuters/V. Ogirenko

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

Saakashvili was Georgia's president from 2004 to 2013. Many blame his miscalculations for the monthlong war between Russia and Georgia, which ended in defeat.

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

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

He quit the post in 2016, during a public spat with Poroshenko, accusing the president of corruption and obstructing Odessa's anti-graft efforts.

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

'A complicated situation'

The standoff in Kyiv also prompted a response from Moscow, with Vladimir Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov saying 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."

He said, however, that 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," Peskov said.

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