By Pavel Polityuk
KIEV (Reuters) – Dozens of Ukrainian police in riot gear raided a protest camp outside parliament early on Wednesday in a failed attempt to detain former Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili, who was freed from custody by supporters a day earlier.
Saakashvili later said police had searched the wrong tent at the camp, continuing a surreal hide-and-seek game between him and Ukrainian law enforcement ever since he barged across the Polish border three months ago.
The saga threatens to embarrass the pro-Western leadership in Kiev, although Saakashvili’s party, which wants to unseat President Petro Poroshenko at the ballot box, does not have nationwide support, opinion polls show.
Protesters defended the camp, which was set up in September, leading to clashes in which four policemen and an unknown number of civilians were wounded, Kiev police said in a statement.
“The activists began to resist and provoke law enforcement officers,” it said, adding that it had been acting on prosecutors’ orders.
The situation was calm as of 0800 GMT, although hundreds of armoured police and national guard were standing guard outside parliament, according to a Reuters witness.
The General Prosecutor has vowed to regain custody of Saakashvili, who was freed by his supporters from a police van in a chaotic scene on Tuesday after his detention on suspicion of assisting a criminal organisation.
In a televised briefing, Saakashvili repeated that he would not present himself to law enforcement officials, as he had been requested to do by 0900 (0700 GMT).
“I am prepared to meet an investigator of the prosecutor in the tent city,” he said.
His detention was the latest twist in a prolonged feud between the Ukrainian authorities and Saakashvili, who was invited by Poroshenko to become a regional governor after the “Maidan” protests ousted a pro-Russian president in early 2014.
The two quickly fell out and Saakashvili turned on his one-time patron, accusing him of corruption and calling for his removal from office.
Poroshenko’s office said prosecutors have evidence to back up the claims against Saakashvili, whom they accuse of receiving financing from criminals linked to former president Viktor Yanukovich who planned to overthrow the current government.
Saakashvili received Ukrainian citizenship when he reinvented himself as a Ukrainian politician but was stripped of it by Poroshenko in July while abroad and is now stateless.
(Additional reporting by Sergei Karazy; Writing by Alessandra Prentice; editing by Matthias Williams)