Ukrainian protesters free Saakashvili after rooftop arrest
Ex-Georgian leader denies allegations of plotting coup and calls for street protests
Former Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili was detained on a Kiev rooftop and then freed from a police van by supporters on Tuesday, as Ukraine’s authorities accused him of trying to seize power with the help of a shadowy pro-Russian oligarch.
Mr Saakashvili dismissed the allegation as a “barefaced lie” and urged Ukrainians to rally against what he called the rampant corruption and abuse of power shown by the country’s ruling elite.
An extraordinary day in Kiev began with police launching a dawn raid on Mr Saakashvili’s apartment, and the leader of Georgia’s 2003 Rose Revolution fleeing to the roof before being dragged back inside by about 10 officers.
Allies of the man who ran Georgia for nearly a decade and then Ukraine’s Odessa region in 2015-16, urged people on social media to come to his aid, and soon a crowd was blocking the police van’s exit and trying to extricate Mr Saakashvili.
Despite bursts of police pepper spray, the crowd pulled open the door of the van and bustled Mr Saakashvili away, as he held up a two-fingered “victory” salute with handcuffs still dangling from his wrist.
Several people were hurt and others detained in the melee, which came almost three months after supporters shoved Mr Saakashvili past police officers and back into Ukraine from Poland, despite his Ukrainian citizenship being revoked for alleged irregularities.
He says he is being persecuted by Ukraine’s president Petro Poroshenko for criticising his failure to fight corruption and implement the sweeping reforms that Ukrainians demanded during a revolution four years ago.
Mr Saakashvili is wanted on a number of charges in his native Georgia and could face extradition from Ukraine, where he says a number of his associates have been summarily detained and deported, some violently, in recent weeks.
Ukrainian prosecutor general Yuri Lutsenko, a close ally of Mr Poroshenko, accused Mr Saakashvili and associates of planning to seize power using financial and other support from Serhiy Kurchenko, a tycoon who fled to Russia with ex-president Viktor Yanukovich in 2014.
“I call on Ukrainians from all regions: we should come together today. We should peacefully and calmly tell parliament enough of poverty, enough lying, enough repression,” Mr Saakashvili told about 1,500 supporters.
“We need people. If we have people, everything will work out for us.”
Polls suggest Mr Saakashvili is not particularly popular, but he may have some success in channelling widespread public frustration with Ukraine’s rulers.