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Ukrainian Court Releases Saakashvili from Detention

Former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili gestures in a court room in Kiev, Ukraine, Dec. 11, 2017.
Former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili gestures in a court room in Kiev, Ukraine, Dec. 11, 2017.

A Ukrainian court has released from detention opposition figure Mikheil Saakashvili, who is accused by prosecutors of assisting a criminal organization.

Ukrainian prosecutors had sought to place Saakashvili under house arrest, but a judge on December 11 turned down the request.

Saakashvili told journalists after the hearing that he planned to continue his political activities with the aim of "constitutional, calm, but very necessary transfer of power in the country," accusing the Ukrainian authorities of corruption and "usurping power."

But he said he "has no presidential ambitions" himself.

Judge Larysa Tsokol told Kyiv's Pechera district court that the prosecutors' request to put Saakashvili under house arrest pending trial was "dismissed," prompting applause by Saakashvili's supporters in the courtroom.

Saakashvili praised the judge's ruling as "courageous," and said, "It means not everything is lost in Ukraine."

Ukrainian Prosecutor-General Yuriy Lutsenko later said on ICTV that he will appeal the judge's ruling.

Meanwhile, Reuters reported that Ukraine's Justice Ministry is also still weighing an extradition request from Georgia for the former Georgian president to face criminal charges related to his years in power there.

Saakashvili has dismissed the charges against him in both countries as trumped up.

"I don't consider myself a detainee, I consider myself a prisoner of war," he told journalists before the December 11 hearing.

The court was packed with journalists and lawmakers as the custody hearing for Saakashvili, who is also an ex-governor of Ukraine's Odesa region, which dragged on late into the evening of December 11.

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

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 Kyiv 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 Odesa 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 Kyiv 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.

With reporting by RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service, AP, Reuters, UNIAN, Interfax, TASS, and AFP