Ukraine blocks Saakashvili train

2017-09-10 19:05
President Mikheil Saakashvili (Michal Cizek: AFP)

President Mikheil Saakashvili (Michal Cizek: AFP)

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Przemysl - Ukrainian authorities on Sunday blocked a train in Poland carrying stateless former Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili as the firebrand politician attempted to return to Ukraine to reclaim his citizenship there, stripped by President Petro Poroshenko in a bitter row.

A statement by Ukrainian police read to an AFP journalist aboard the Kiev-bound train in Przemysl, southern Poland, said it would "not leave the station so long as people without the right to return to Ukraine will be on board."

Saakashvili refused to get off, telling journalists that "taking a whole train hostage is ridiculous" and accusing Poroshenko of making Ukraine "a laughing stock to the whole world".

Ukraine's outspoken ex-prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko threw her support behind Saakashvili earlier on Sunday, meeting the 49-year-old exile in the southern Polish town of Rzeszow as he headed by bus to the Korczowa-Krakovets border crossing.

Saakashvili however then opted to take the train, insisting that "several hundred thugs were mobilized by the Ukrainian government to stop several thousand" of his supporters waiting to greet him on the Ukrainian side of the border.

The Kiev government is "panicking," Saakashvili said, adding that he did "not want to overthrow President Poroshenko" but just defend his rights.

'Future president'?

"We believe in the fact that Mikheil Saakashvili can lead our country out of the crisis," Lyudmyla Goretska, one of thousands of supporters waiting in Krakovets on the Ukrainian side of the border, told AFP.

"We see what he did in his own country (Georgia) and that's enough for us," Goretska said of Saakashvili, who set up the Movement of the New Forces political party in Ukraine.

"The main problem in our country is corruption... We need to overcome the oligarchy."

The charismatic Saakashvili is credited with pushing through pro-Western reforms in his native Georgia which he led from 2004 to 2013.

Another supporter, Maria, 49, who declined to give her surname, told AFP she believes "Saakashvili is the future president" of Ukraine and "will finish the war" with Russia.

Saakashvili is currently wanted in his homeland for alleged abuse of power - something he denies - during a tumultuous nine years as president that saw him fight and lose a brief war against Russia in 2008.

He left in disgrace for Ukraine in 2015 to work for the country's pro-Western authorities as governor of the key Odessa region on the Black Sea.

But he quit in November 2016 amid a dramatic falling out with Poroshenko, who stripped him of his Ukrainian citizenship in July while he was out of the country.

Now, Saakashvili wants to return to challenge that decision in court and get back into politics.

Stateless in Ukraine

But the Ukrainian border service suggested Saakashvili would be denied entry on the grounds that as a stateless person, he lacks the required documents.

Saakashvili lost his Georgian citizenship when he was granted a Ukrainian passport in 2015, as the country bans dual citizenship.

He has brandished his Ukrainian passport on several occasions and also maintains that officials working for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in Geneva have confirmed his status as "stateless in Ukraine", meaning he has the right to be there to appeal against Poroshenko's decision to withdraw his citizenship.

Kiev justified the move by claiming that Saakashvili had provided "inaccurate information" in his citizenship application.

Georgia on Tuesday asked Kiev to extradite Saakashvili to face charges including misappropriation of property and abuse of office, among others.

Saakashvili flatly denies the charges, arguing that they are part of a political witch hunt by his opponents.

He says Georgia's extradition request was driven by "oligarchs" who fear his presence in Ukraine, where he fought against corruption, and claims Tbilisi's accusations of "abuse of power" are politically motivated.

"We see a roll-back of reforms in Ukraine, we see a crackdown on anti-corruption activities in Ukraine. This is very sad," Saakashvili said Friday in Warsaw.

Read more on:    georgia  |  ukraine

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