Kiev Court To Rule On Pretrial Restrictions For Saakashvili

KIEV, Ukraine -- A Ukrainian court is set to decide whether to impose pretrial restrictions on Ukrainian opposition leader Mikheil Saakashvili, who dismissed the allegations against him in defiant remarks just before the hearing.

Mikheil Saakashvili (R) and his wife, Sandra Roelofs, attend a court hearing in Kiev on December 11.

Kiev's Pechera district court was packed with journalists and lawmakers as the custody hearing for Saakashvili, the former Georgian president and ex-governor of Ukraine's Odessa region, dragged on late into the afternoon on December 11.

A crowd of about 200 Saakashvili supporters scuffled with police outside.

Prosecutors at the hearing asked the judge to place Saakashvili under pretrial house arrest for two months.

Saakashvili was detained late on December 8, after an initial attempt to place him in custody failed on December 5 when supporters crowded around a police vehicle where he was being held after a raid on his apartment and freed him.

On December 9, prosecutors said they would ask a court to place him under house arrest with electronic monitoring pending trial.

On December 10, thousands of people demonstrated in central Kiev to demand Saakashvili’s release and to call for the impeachment or resignation of President Petro Poroshenko.

Ukrainian authorities say Saakashvili is suspected of abetting an alleged "criminal group" led by former President Viktor Yanukovych, who fled to Russia after his ouster in February 2014.

They also have suggested that Saakashvili’s protests are part of a Russian plot against Ukraine.

Calling himself Russian President Vladimir Putin's "biggest enemy in the post-Soviet space," Saakashvili said that his accusers "must be nuts."

He said he was "the person who took Russia's first strike" -- a reference to the five-day war in which Russian forces drove deep into Georgia in 2008, during his 2004-13 presidency in the South Caucasus country.

"I consider myself a prisoner of Ukrainian oligarchs," Saakashvili said in an apparent reference to Poroshenko, a chocolate-and-candy tycoon who critics say has not sufficiently divested himself of his business interests.

Saakashvili called for calm when police scuffled with supporters in the street outside and a smoke bomb was apparently thrown, saying that "we don't want confrontation."

Saakashvili's lawyer asked the judge to cancel the hearing, saying that his client had not been served papers about his case in person and in the presence of an attorney and contending that was illegal. 

Former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, who is also an opposition leader, was in the courthouse and likened Poroshenko to Yanukovych.

"You are jailing your opponents -- the way Yanukovych did. Keep in mind how it all ended," she said. 

Saakashvili became governor of Ukraine's Odessa region in 2015 but quit a year later, accusing the authorities of sabotaging reform efforts in the region and nationwide.

He is now a vocal opponent of Poroshenko, an acquaintance from the time when both attended university in Kiev in the Soviet era.

Saakashvili’s lawyer and supporters said on December 9 that the opposition leader had declared a hunger strike to protest his arrest.

Source: Radio Free Europe