Sunday 17 November 2019

Ex-Georgian president to face court after crossing border from Poland to Ukraine

A Ukrainian border guard officer, left, reads a protocol to former Georgian president Mikhail Saakashvili, seated, at a hotel in Lviv (AP)
A Ukrainian border guard officer, left, reads a protocol to former Georgian president Mikhail Saakashvili, seated, at a hotel in Lviv (AP)
Mikheil Saakashvili at the Shegini checkpoint on the Ukrainian-Polish border (AP)

Former Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili has been served legal notice by Ukrainian authorities after the stateless politician forced his way across the border from Poland.

Ukrainian border guards and police turned up at a hotel in the city of Lviv where Mr Saakashvili was staying and presented him with an official document detailing his alleged violation of crossing the border illegally.

Local media reported that Mr Saakashvili, a former governor of Ukraine's Odessa region, was ordered to appear at a court hearing over the incident on Monday.

The headstrong and divisive Mr Saakashvili poses a challenge to Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, who once was his patron but revoked his Ukrainian citizenship in July.

Surrounded by supporters, he broke through a cordon of Ukrainian border guards at the border on Sunday.

Returning to Ukraine is a risk for Mr Saakashvili, who is stateless because he was forced to give up citizenship in his native Georgia when he received Ukrainian nationality.

"We are acting lawfully and protecting the law," he said during an improvised press conference outside his hotel on Monday. He announced plans to hold rallies in towns across Ukraine and to travel to the capital, Kiev.

Mr Poroshenko has said he committed a crime by entering the country.

Ukraine's Interior Ministry said five people who crossed into Ukraine from Poland with Mr Saakashvili were arrested on criminal charges.

He leads a small Ukrainian political party called the Movement of New Forces and has vowed to shake-up Ukrainian politics now he is back in the country.

In an interview at his hotel on Monday night, he called the current situation in Ukraine "tragic" and said he would devote himself to helping to create a "new political class for an emerging Ukraine".

"We need new people. Ukraine is fed up with the old corrupt political class. They want new people, new energy, new faces, new ideas."

Mr Saakashvili was appointed governor of Odessa in 2015 on the strength of his record of fighting corruption as Georgia's president between 2004 and 2013.

However, he resigned after 18 months, complaining that official corruption in Ukraine was so entrenched he could not work effectively.

It is "very important not to allow oligarchs to get away with an imitation of reform", he said on Sunday.

Georgia, where he faces accusations of abuse of power and misappropriation of property, has sent an extradition request for him to Ukraine. It is not clear if Ukraine intends to honour the request.


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