Detained Mikheil Sakaashvili on ‘hunger strike’
Mikheil Saakashvili, a former Georgian president and ex-governor of Ukraine’s Odessa region, says he has gone on hunger strike following his re-arrest in Kiev.
Police took the 49-year-old into custody late on Friday, four days after a large crowd ripped off the doors of a police van to free him after he was briefly detained in Ukraine’s capital.
His official Facebook page said on Saturday that Saakashvili had started a hunger strike while in detention and issued a call to his supporters to take to the streets on Sunday.
Sakaashvili is being investigated for alleged support of a criminal organisation, among other charges. He is also facing accusations of having received financing from removed President Viktor Yanukovych, who is currently living in exile in Russia, in order to stage a coup.
He has said the charges against him are false, according to his lawyer, insisting that they are politically motivated.
Sakaashvili has been at the forefront of anti-corruption protests calling for the impeachment of Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko.
Scores of his supporters gathered outside the detention centre in Kiev and promised to stay until he was released.
|Saakashvili supporters gathered outside the detention facility where the opposition leader was taken [Valentyn Ogirenko/Reuters]|
‘Fuse of discontent’
Sakaashvili gained international fame for leading the 2003 Rose Revolution in Georgia that forced President Eduard Shevardnadze to resign.
He won the subsequent presidential elections and was in office from 2004 to 2013.
He left Georgia, which he led in a disastrous war against Russia, for Ukraine in 2015. There he was made governor of Odessa by Poroshenko, a former university friend, but resigned after 18 months in protest over alleged efforts to stymie his anti-corruption drive.
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.
In Georgia, he faces corruption allegations, which he denies.
Michael Boiciurkiw, a global affairs analyst based in Kiev, said Sakaashvili’s only possible option, if Ukraine decides to deport him, would be to go to Poland.
He added, however, that his arrest did not signal the end of his political career.
“Sakaashvili has a tremendous ego but he has a lot of staying power,” he told Al Jazeera.
Boiciurkiw went on to say that the government had not only “turned Sakaashvili into a martyr, but also lit a fuse of discontent.
“This is like shooting steroids in a tiger. Saakashvili is a fighter, he is not a man who goes down without a fight,” he added, noting that his arrest might be used by the government to divert attention from the allegations of corruption.
“A lot of analysts, including myself, see this as Poroshenko very desperate to keep attention away from the corruption.”