Jailed, hunger-striking Saakashvili calls for Ukraine president’s impeachment

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 09 December, 2017, 10:43pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 09 December, 2017, 10:43pm

From his jail cell in Ukraine’s capital, opposition leader Mikheil Saakashvili is calling on supporters to rally for the impeachment of the president and has declared a hunger strike.

Saakashvili, the former governor of the Odessa region who was stripped of his citizenship this summer, was arrested on Friday night. He hasn’t been formally charged, but prosecutors said he colluded with Ukrainian businessmen tied to Russia to topple President Petro Poroshenko.

Saakashvili rejects the allegations, pointing to his long record of opposition to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Saakashvili must be taken to court for arraignment within 72 hours of arrest. No day for that has been announced. A spokesman for the prosecutor-general’s office, Andrei Lysenko, said on Saturday that officials are likely to ask for him to be put under house arrest after his court appearance.

He also faces the possibility of being sent back to his native Georgia, where he faces charges of abuse of office from his years as president from 2004-2013.

He left Georgia in 2013, and in 2015 was named by Poroshenko to be Odessa governor. The next year, Saakashvili resigned from that post, claiming Poroshenko and other officials were impeding reforms in Odessa and he became a strong critic of his former patron.

Georgia stripped his citizenship after his move to Ukraine, and Poroshenko this summer rescinded his Ukrainian citizenship, leaving Saakashvili stateless. He was out of the country when he lost Ukrainian citizenship, but forced his way into Ukraine in September, barging across the Polish border with the help of a crowd of supporters.

His lawyer, Ruslan Chernolutsky, said Saakashvili had written a statement in jail saying “don’t be afraid of anything and boldly go to Sunday’s peaceful demonstration” for Petroshenko’s impeachment.

He also said Saakashvili would refuse food while in detention.

Saakashvili supporters have set up several dozen tents in a protest encampment near the parliament building. But police have not moved to disperse them.