Police storm protest camp, try to arrest Saakashvili again

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Riot police early on Dec. 6 again attempted to arrest former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, storming the protest camp in front of parliament where he is based, but they failed to find him.

The first attempt by the SBU and the Prosecutor General’s Office failed when hundreds of Saakashvili’s supporters broke the windows of the minivan in which he was being held and freed him on Dec. 5.

Saakashvili, who is under investigation in a criminal case, says President Petro Poroshenko is pursuing a political vendetta against him.

During the second effort to arrest him, police on Dec. 6 surrounded the protest tent camp from all sides and broke through to the area with tents. They entered one of the tents, mistakenly thinking that Saakashvili was there, and beat the protesters living there.

The demonstrators fought back against the police, built barricades out of tires and wooden planks and put piles of stones along the camp’s perimeter to resist further police attacks.

Saakashvili and some of the protesters later went to the building of the nearby Kyiv Hotel and barricaded themselves in. Later the police withdrew, having failed to arrest him.

Several protesters and police officers were injured. Photos of one demonstrator with a bloodied head were published.

Protesters clash with riot police in front of the Verkhovna Rada on Dec. 6. 

Saakashvili then held a news briefing, scheduling another protest in front of the Rada for 6 p.m.

The purpose of the protest is to discuss the goal of “ousting the organized crime group from Ukrainian law enforcement agencies by legal means and start the impeachment of the organized crime group headed by Poroshenko,” Saakashvili said.

He said that he would not go to the Prosecutor General’s Office for questioning, as requested by Prosecutor General Yuriy Lutsenko, but was ready to be questioned by investigators at the tent camp.

“(The prosecutor general) is illegitimate,” Saakashvili said. “I don’t consider him the prosecutor general of Ukraine… Let this con artist Lutsenko show his legal diploma, and I’ll believe that he’s prosecutor general. I have three law degrees, and I won’t go to this ignorant D student.”

Lutsenko does not have a law degree, and a special law was passed in 2016 to abolish the law degree requirement for the prosecutor general and make his appointment possible. His critics say the appointment was made with many procedural violations.

Saakashvili and his lawyer Ruslan Chernolutsky said that the attempt to arrest him on Dec. 5 was illegal because the police and Security Service of Ukraine did not give them any documents or any arrest or search warrants and did not allow Saakashvili’s lawyers to be present. They called the attempt to detain him “a crime” and “a kidnapping.”

Lutsenko on Dec. 5 accused Saakashvili of getting funding from oligarch Serhiy Kurchenko, an ally of the ousted former President Viktor Yanukovych, to finance protests against the authorities. Lutsenko played what he claimed were intercepted phone conversations allegedly between Saakashvili and Kurchenko.

Saakashvili called the accusations of cooperation with Kurchenko or Russia “total nonsense,” adding that there is “no bigger enemy of (Russian dictator Vladimir) Putin” than him.” He said the phone conversations had been faked.

“(Poroshenko) is saying that I’m a (Kremlin) agent,” Saakashvili said at the news briefing. “Everyone in the world is laughing at this. (Poroshenko) is paying taxes to the Russian treasury, and these taxes are used by Russia to buy weapons.”

Saakashvili was referring to taxes paid from Poroshenko’s Lipetsk confectionary factory, whose operations were suspended in January.

A protester with a bloodied head after the Dec. 6 attempt by the police to storm the protest camp.

A protester with a bloodied head after the Dec. 6 attempt by the police to storm the protest camp.

Lutsenko also prompted criticism by saying on Dec. 6 that Security Service of Ukraine officers “must have shot” at protesters when they blocked the police on Dec. 5 during Saakashvili’s arrest.

“However, we think of the state… Sometimes we will not use the rights given to us by the law but Saakashvili will be arrested,” Lutsenko said, implying that the SBU did not use its right to shoot at protesters.

Lutsenko’s statement appears to contradict Ukrainian law, according to which SBU officers can only shoot at armed protesters. The protesters who blocked the police on Dec. 5. were unarmed.

Saakashvili’s arrest followed what he views as large-scale political repression of his supporters.

On Dec. 3, the Prosecutor General’s Office and the Security Service of Ukraine, or SBU, arrested Severion Dangadze and Nazar Sitsinsky, activists of Saakashvili’s Movement of New Forces party.

Recently about 100 Movement of New Forces activists were summoned for “a talk” with SBU officials, who told them that Saakashvili would have to leave Ukraine, and the party activists would be jailed if they do not stop their opposition activities, Olha Halabala, a senior official of the Movement of New Forces, said on Dec. 4.

Meanwhile, five Saakashvili supporters have been charged in criminal cases linked to his crossing of the border in September. One of them, Oleksandr Burtsev, is under arrest, and three others are under house arrest. 

The authorities say Saakashvili crossed the border illegally, while he denies the charge. 

Moreover, seven Georgian associates of Saakashvili, a co-organizer of the protests near the Verkhovna Rada, were deported to their homeland on Nov. 17 and Oct. 21 in what they say was an illegal operation without due process or any court warrants. Several of them say they were beaten.

The authorities deny accusations of wrongdoing.

Saakashvili was stripped of citizenship by Poroshenko in July in what he sees as a measure that violates the Constitution, Ukrainian and international law and due process.

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