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article imageUkraine strips Georgia's ex-leader Saakashvili of citzenship

By Dmytro GORSHKOV (AFP)     Jul 27, 2017 in Politics

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said Thursday he has stripped former Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili of his Ukrainian citizenship, paving the way for his possible extradition to Georgia.

The charismatic reformer came to power in Georgia's 2003 Rose Revolution but then fell from grace and is now wanted by Georgian prosecutors on charges of abuse of office during his nine-year rule that he insists are politically motivated.

In a statement sent to AFP, Saakashvili vowed: "I will fight for my legal right to return to Ukraine!"

Poroshenko's administration sent AFP a statement on Thursday confirming the president had signed a decree revoking Saakashvili's citizenship, saying this was for "giving incorrect information when he submitted his application."

Poroshenko "signed the relevant decree" on the recommendation of the state migration service which provided "convincing evidence," the statement said.

Saakashvili does not have any other citizenship since Georgia took away his passport in December 2015, after he acquired Ukrainian citizenship to become a governor of Ukraine's Odessa region.

Georgia's leadership has not yet commented publicly on Poroshenko's decision.

Saakashvili, who is currently in New York, according to his representative Zoe Reyners, slammed the decision, saying in a Facebook post that "there is an attempt under way to force me to become a refugee."

The decision was first announced late Wednesday in an indirectly worded statement by the Ukrainian migration service.

It said Georgia had provided "materials on Mikheil Saakashvili" to Ukrainian prosecutors which the migration service then studied and passed to the presidential commission on citizenship.

- 'Underhanded' -

"Today I am being subjected to the same approaches that are used by Ukraine's prosecutors or bureaucrats against regular Ukrainians, whose rights are spat upon," Saakashvili said in a video posted on Facebook.

"Poroshenko decided to deprive me of my citizenship in an underhanded way, while I am out of the country!"

The announcement came after Poroshenko met Georgian Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili in Tbilisi last week.

Saakashvili wrote on Facebook on Monday that he had information that Poroshenko had also visited billionaire ex-PM Bidzina Ivanishvili, who leads the ruling party behind the scenes.

"Their secret meeting lasted more than two hours and was almost entirely about me," Saakashvili wrote.

Saakashvili is now in the United States, and the decree means he will be unable to return to Ukraine, an MP from Poroshenko's bloc, Sergiy Leshchenko, wrote on Facebook.

"Practically they are forcing Saakashvili to take refuge in America and forget about Ukrainian politics," Leshchenko wrote.

Known for sweeping pro-Western reforms in his native Georgia which he led from 2004 to 2013, Saakashvili was a strong supporter of Ukraine's Maidan uprising and as a reward Poroshenko appointed him as governor of Ukraine's Odessa region in 2015.

Saakashvili quit in November 2016, however, saying he was being held back in his efforts to fight corruption among high-ranking officials.

The fluent Ukrainian speaker had repeated run-ins with some members of Poroshenko's inner circle and was frequently accused of having outsized political ambitions of his own.

Saakashvili is an arch-Kremlin foe and led his country in a brief war with Russia in 2008.

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev mocked Saakashvili's on-off Ukrainian citizenship on Thursday, calling his situation a "fantastical tragicomedy" in a comment on Facebook.

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