KIEV, Ukraine— Mikheil Saakashvili, the adamant opposition leader who was stripped of his Ukrainian citizenship four months ago, was arrested late Friday in Ukraine’s capital.
Hundreds of his supporters gathered in a narrow street outside the police station where he was taken, shouting “Shame” and calling for others to join them.
The arrest boosted rising tensions in a country that has already been shaken by massive protest uprisings twice in this century.
Saakashvili’s extraordinary energy and strong charisma took him to the forefront of the 2003 Rose Revolution that forced out the government in his native Georgia. He then served as Georgian president for a decade.
After leaving Georgia as his political fortunes declined, he was appointed governor of Ukraine’s Odesa region by President Petro Poroshenko. Saakashvili had received plaudits for his anti-corruption reforms in Georgia and was expected to try for similar results in Odesa.
But he stepped down in 2016, complaining that Poroshenko himself had undermined his efforts. The president, his former patron, rescinded his Ukrainian citizenship in July while he was out of the country. Georgia had earlier stripped his citizenship and sought his extradition on charges of abuse of power while president.
Saakashvili was left stateless, but he returned to Ukraine in September, boldly barging across the border with Poland aided by a crowd of supporters.
Since then, he has pushed to galvanize opposition to Poroshenko and other government figures he contends are corrupt. Although his support appeared to be comparatively small, he was able to gather several thousand people for a protest march last week.
On Tuesday, police tried to arrest Saakashvili at his apartment building. He climbed out on the roof and threatened to jump, but police grabbed him and took him to a van. The van was surrounded by a throng of supporters who eventually were able to free him. An attempt to arrest him at a protest tent camp near the Ukrainian parliament also failed
Ukrainian Prosecutor-General Yuriy Lutsenko says his office has evidence that Saakashvili’s representative received $500,000 to finance protests from Ukrainian businessmen with ties to Russia.
Saakashvili rejects the allegations, pointing to his long record of opposition to Russian President Vladimir Putin.