Reuters KIEV (Reuters) — Ukrainian supporters of former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili freed him from a police van on Tuesday after his detention on suspicion of assisting a criminal organization led to clashes with police in Kiev.
Once freed, Saakashvili raised a hand in a V-for-victory sign — a handcuff still dangling from his wrist as he stood in a melee of supporters. He then led protesters towards parliament, where he called defiantly for President Petro Poroshenko to be removed from office.
Prosecutors said they would make all efforts to regain custody of Saakashvili but the chaotic scenes of his detention and escape are likely to undermine the image of stability that Ukraine’s leadership are keen to present to foreign backers.
Ukrainian prosecutors suspect Saakashvili of receiving financing from a criminal group linked to former president Viktor Yanukovich which planned to overthrow the current government.
He could face up to five years if found guilty. Saakashvili is also wanted in Georgia on criminal charges which he says were trumped up for political reasons.
Masked officers had earlier dragged Saakashvili, 49, from an apartment in the Ukrainian capital. But his supporters prevented the police van from moving off, hemming it in and eventually freeing him by breaking its windows and back door.
Protesters also started assembling a barricade of tires, wood and stones ripped up from the street in scenes reminiscent of Ukraine’s 2013-14 pro-European “Maidan” uprising.
“Today you maybe saved me from death, therefore my life belongs to you,” Saakashvili told a crowd at a makeshift camp outside parliament built by opposition supporters in September.
“The people of Ukraine must assemble and force the Ukrainian parliament to remove from power the criminal group led by the traitor to Ukraine, Poroshenko,” he said.
General Prosecutor Yuriy Lutsenko said Saakashvili had a 24-hour deadline to present himself to the state security service, but subsequent comments by his press office suggested he could be detained earlier.
“All legal grounds for his detention have been established,” spokesman Andriy Lysenko said.
The detention was the latest twist in a prolonged feud between the Ukrainian authorities and Saakashvili, who was invited by Poroshenko to become a regional governor after the “Maidan” protests ousted a pro-Russian president in early 2014.
The two quickly fell out and Saakashvili turned on his one-time patron.
It is unclear if Tuesday’s events will lead to wider unrest, as Saakashvili enjoys limited support in Ukraine. Only 1.7 percent of voters would support his party, the Movement of New Forces, in elections, according to an October survey by the Kiev-based Razumkov Centre think-tank.Speech