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Saakashvili, supporters push past border guards, force entry into Ukraine

© Janek Skarzynski / AFP | Former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili (L) and former Prime Minister of Ukraine Yulia Tymoshenko (R) talk with journalists in a train going to Ukraine from southeastern Poland, on September 10, 2017.

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2017-09-11

Exiled former Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili and hundreds of his supporters forced entry into Ukraine from Poland on Sunday in an attempt by the firebrand politician to reclaim his citizenship stripped by President Petro Poroshenko.

An AFP reporter saw Saakashvili and his supporters enter Ukraine at Poland's Medyka border crossing, pushing aside Ukrainian border guards who had turned him back just hours earlier.

Saakashvili had tried to travel to the Ukrainian city of Lviv on a train, but it was held in a Polish city until he got off. He then traveled by bus to the Medyka-Shehyni border crossing, where he was allowed to pass through a Polish checkpoint on the border with Ukraine, but then temporarily blocked from reaching the Ukrainian checkpoint by a line of border guards standing arm-in-arm.

A risky trip

The decision to enter Ukraine carries sizeable risk. Georgia has sent Ukraine a request to extradite Saakashvili; he faces possible charges in his homeland of misappropriation of property and abuse of power while president.

In Ukraine, outspoken ex-prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko threw her support behind Saakashvili on Sunday, meeting the 49-year-old firebrand in the southern Polish town of Rzeszow as he headed to the Korczowa border crossing where guards are expected to refuse him entry.

"We've come to defend Mikheil, but we're also here to defend Ukraine," Tymoshenko told reporters, comparing today's Ukraine to that of pro-Russian former president Viktor Yanukovych, who was overthrown in 2014 following mass protests in Kiev.

"We believe in the fact that Mikheil Saakashvili can lead our country out of the crisis," Lyudmyla Goretska, a supporter who had traveled from the distant Kiev region, told AFP in Krakovets on the Ukrainian side of the border.

"We do not need much, we see what he did in his own country (Georgia) and that's enough for us," Goretska said of Saakashvili, who set up the Movement of the New Forces political party in Ukraine.

"The main problem in our country is corruption... We need to overcome the oligarchy."

Another supporter, Maria, 49, who declined to give her surname, told AFP she believes "Saakashvili is the future president" of Ukraine.

"I believe that he will change the situation in Ukraine, he will finish the war" with Russia.

Saakashvili earlier told journalists in the Polish city of Rzeszow on Sunday: "I will not give up until I can cross the border."

Stateless in Ukraine

The charismatic Saakashvili is credited with pushing through pro-Western reforms in his native Georgia which he led from 2004 to 2013.

He is currently wanted in his homeland for alleged abuse of power -- something he denies -- during a tumultuous nine years as president that saw him fight and lose a brief war against Russia in 2008.

He left in disgrace for Ukraine in 2015 to work for the country's pro-Western authorities as governor of the key Odessa region on the Black Sea.

But he quit in November 2016 amid a dramatic falling out with Ukraine's President Petro Poroshenko, who stripped him of his Ukrainian citizenship in July while he was out of the country.

Saakashvili maintains that officials working for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in Geneva have confirmed his status as "stateless in Ukraine", meaning he has the right to be there to appeal against Poroshenko's July decision to withdraw his citizenship.

Kiev justified its decision by claiming that Saakashvili had provided "inaccurate information" in his citizenship application.

Georgia on Tuesday asked Kiev to extradite Saakashvili to face charges including misappropriation of property and abuse of office, among others.

Saakashvili flatly denies the charges, arguing that they are part of a political witch hunt by his opponents.

He says Georgia's extradition request was driven by "oligarchs" who fear his presence in Ukraine, where he fought against corruption, and claims Tbilisi's accusations of "abuse of power" are politically motivated.

"We see a roll-back of reforms in Ukraine, we see a crackdown on anti-corruption activities in Ukraine. This is very sad," Saakashvili said Friday in Warsaw.

(FRANCE 24 with AP, AFP)

Date created : 2017-09-10

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