Hundreds of supporters of former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili ripped off the doors of a police van to free him after he was briefly detained in Ukraine’s capital.
Crowds gathered outside Saakashvili’s apartment in Kiev during the police raid on the building on Tuesday. Supporters blocked the street with makeshift barricades, resulting in a standoff that lasted several hours.
He was later hauled off by officers into the police van, and in a chaotic scene, his supporters successfully moved in to release him.
Speaking to the crowd, Saakashvili called for the overthrow of Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko.
“I urge you to start a peaceful protest to remove Poroshenko; you should not be afraid of anything,” he said.
Saakashvili and supporters then began a march through Kiev towards parliament.
Saakashvili has been a fervent opponent of the president since resigning as governor of the Black Sea Odessa region in 2016, claiming his reforms were being blocked by Poroshenko’s allies.
His arrest was linked to alleged crimes in Ukraine, said Yuriy Lutsenko, the country’s prosecutor general.
“Currently it’s not a matter of deportation or extradition. It’s a matter of questioning the suspect about a particularly serious crime,” he said at a press conference before Saakashvili’s escape.
Lutsenko accused Saakashvili of having contacts with former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich, who was overthrown after violent demonstrations in 2014.
“By maintaining contacts with the criminal organisation led by Yanukovich, who obviously financed his political activities in Ukraine, Mikheil Saakashvili has crossed the line as a politician,” Lutsenko said.
The prosecutor gave Saakashvili 24 hours to surrender to police.
“After 24 hours, the entire law enforcement system of Ukraine will do everything necessary to make Mikheil Saakashvili stand in front of investigators,” Lutsenko later told parliament.
Saakashvili was stripped of his Ukrainian citizenship while on a trip to the United States in July, but forced his way back into the country in September.
He surrendered his Georgian citizenship because Ukraine forbids its citizens from having dual nationalities, meaning Saakashvili has since been stateless.
He is also wanted in Georgia on suspicion of trying to organise a coup after leaving office.
Saakashvili came to power in 2003 in Georgia’s Rose Revolution and worked to remove the country from the Russian sphere of influence, introducing free-market economic policies and beginning NATO membership negotiations. He served as president for 10 years.