International

Saakashvili says counting on supporters for Ukraine return

Mikheil Saakashvili, a former Georgian president and current opposition leader in Ukraine, on Tuesday said he was counting on help from his supporters to return to Kiev after being deported to Poland.

(AFP)

Mikheil Saakashvili, a former Georgian president and current opposition leader in Ukraine, on Tuesday said he was counting on help from his supporters to return to Kiev after being deported to Poland.

The 50-year-old had been sent to Warsaw on Monday for residing in Ukraine "illegally", according to Ukraine's border guard service.

"I want to stay a Ukrainian politician and fight the corruption. When we have one million (people) in Kiev in the streets, we will go peacefully to Ukraine," Saakashvili told reporters in English at a Warsaw press conference.

"Demonstrations are currently being held outside government buildings in nearly half of Ukraine's regions after what happened yesterday. On the 18th (of February), there will be a large gathering in Kiev and I'll find a way to return," he added in Ukrainian.

Saakashvili was once an ally of Ukrainian leader Petro Poroshenko and governor of Ukraine's Odessa region but is now one of Poroshenko's greatest foes following a falling out.

After being stripped of his Ukrainian passport, Saakashvili broke through the Ukrainian-Polish border with the help of supporters in September last year.

He is accused of trying to stage a coup sponsored by Russia in Ukraine, where he has led rallies calling for Poroshenko's ousting, accusing him of failing to fight corruption.

CCTV footage released by Saakashvili shows his arrest at a restaurant in Kiev on February 12
CCTV footage released by Saakashvili shows his arrest at a restaurant in Kiev on February 12 (MIKHEIL SAAKASHVILI'S PRESS OFFICE/AFP)

On Monday, Saakashvili was detained by masked men at a restaurant in central Kiev, a witness told AFP. His supporters went to Kiev's two airports in a vain effort to prevent his deportation.

Saakashvili's opposition party said in a statement that his lawyer "filed a petition on the kidnapping of the politician" to the police.

Saakashvili said Tuesday that he had been blindfolded and transported first by van, then by helicopter to Kiev's international airport.

Based on accounts of those guarding him, Saakashvili said he concluded that the men had taken part in attacks on the Maidan protesters who had led a revolt against former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych's Moscow-backed government in 2014.

Saakashvili said at the airport he was made to board a Beechcraft aircraft that was chartered by someone who never said a word during the entire flight to Warsaw.

Saakashvili said he may visit the Netherlands next "to see my sons," who like Saakashvili's wife are Dutch citizens. He then plans to "go on a tour of Europe" to gain political support for his cause.