Georgia revokes ex-president Saakashvili's citizenship

Georgia revokes ex-president Saakashvili's citizenship

Tbilisi (AFP) - Georgia on Friday stripped former leader and reformer Mikheil Saakashvili of his citizenship as he had acquired a Ukrainian passport to serve as governor of the strategic Odessa region.

"Based on the law on Georgian citizenship, President Giorgi Margvelashvili signed a decree terminating Mikheil Saakashvili's citizenship due to his acquisition of a foreign country's nationality," Margvelashvili's press service said in a statement.

Saakashvili, has angrily condemned the move as aimed at "blocking" him from standing in elections in Georgia.

"They can take away my passport, but they can't do anything with my love for my Motherland," he told Georgia's Rustavi-2 TV station.

"I was forced to leave my country as I was threatened with an arrest, he said.

Georgia has issued an arrest warrant for Saakashvili on abuse of power charges that he insists are politically motivated.

Several of Saakashvili's top allies have been investigated and some jailed since his United National Movement (UNM) party was defeated in parliamentary and presidential elections in 2012 and 2013, and Western countries voiced concerns over what they perceive as a witch-hunt.

The May appointment of the fervently pro-Western Saakashvili as head of Ukraine's Black Sea region was a pointed signal from Kiev to Moscow that it remains set on its pro-European course despite a bloody separatist conflict in the east blamed on the Kremlin.

"Ukraine is fighting the same empire which confronts Georgia, Ukraine is fighting for freedom," Saakashvili said.

"Ukraine's salvation means Georgia's salvation. This is why I am in Ukraine where I am serving the Georgian cause as well."

During his time at the helm in Georgia, Saakashvili, 47, became the arch-nemesis of the Kremlin as he dragged his tiny ex-Soviet homeland out of Moscow's orbit and closer to the West.

The collapse in relations spiralled into open conflict in 2008 when Russia defeated Georgia in a five-day war over the breakaway region of South Ossetia.

Hugely popular in Ukraine, Saakashvili, who oversaw Georgia's spectacular economic growth and was praised for eradicating rampant corruption, is a divisive figure at home owing to the painful reforms he introduced.