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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 20 June 2018

Former Georgian president Saakashvili on hunger strike after arrest in Ukraine

Leader was re-arrested on Friday on charges of plotting a coup backed by Russia

Ukrainian security service officers detain Mikheil Saakashvili at the entrance of his house in Kiev on December 5, 2017 in an arrest that was thwarted by his supporters. The former Georgian president was re-arrested on December 8. Evgeniy Maloletka / AP Photo
Ukrainian security service officers detain Mikheil Saakashvili at the entrance of his house in Kiev on December 5, 2017 in an arrest that was thwarted by his supporters. The former Georgian president was re-arrested on December 8. Evgeniy Maloletka / AP Photo

Former Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili has gone on hunger strike after being arrested in Ukraine on charges of trying to stage a coup sponsored by Russia.

Kiev police re-arrested the foe of Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko on Friday after an attempt to detain him earlier in the week failed when supporters swarmed the van in which he was being held.

"Saakashvili has announced an indefinite hunger strike," journalist and close ally Vladimir Fedorin wrote on Facebook, comments echoed by the former leader's lawyer Ruslan Chornolutskyi to the Interfax-Ukraine news agency.

Mr Chornolutskyi said his client denounced the "false accusations" against him.

Around 100 supporters of Mr Saakashvili, 49, who pulled Georgia out of Russia's orbit in a 2003 revolution before becoming a governor in Ukraine, gathered outside a detention centre shouting "shame" on Friday following his arrest.

A court hearing on the case is expected be held in Kiev on Monday.

Prosecutors would ask for Mr Saakashvili to be held under pretrial house arrest, a prosecution spokeswoman said.

After escaping detention on Tuesday, Mr Saakashvili continued leading protests outside parliament to demand that Mr Poroshenko be impeached for failing to fight high-level corruption.

He denies committing any crimes and says his actions have been peaceful and legal.

Tuesday's drama marked the latest chapter in the dizzying career of a man who spearheaded a pro-western "Rose Revolution" in Georgia in 2003 and fought a disastrous war with Russia five years later that eventually prompted him to flee the Caucasus country.

Mr Saakashvili returned to the spotlight as a vocal champion of the three-month street uprising in Kiev that toppled a Moscow-backed government in 2014 and turned Ukraine on a pro-EU course.

Mr Poroshenko rewarded him by appointing him governor of the important Black Sea region of Odessa in 2015.

But an ugly falling out between the two men saw Mr Saakashvili stripped of his Ukrainian passport - only for him to defy the authorities and force his way back into the conflict-riven country with the help of supporters in September.