KYIV, Aug. 6 – Ukrainian authorities should give opposition leader Mikheil Saakashvili a fair treatment and let him defend himself in court instead of stripping him of citizenship, Lithuanian Foreign Minister Linas Linkevicius said Sunday.
President Petro Poroshenko stripped Saakashvili of citizenship last month, effectively eliminating a popular political rival ahead of the next presidential election in 2019.
"Saakashvili should be given the opportunity to protect his rights in a transparent trial," Linkevicius said, according to Delfi.lt.
"We will consistently support Ukraine and its leaders in the fight against Russian aggression, support the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine, but at the same time we emphasize the importance of democracy and opportunity for the opposition, and it is especially important that the opposition has created conditions in the fight against corruption," he said.
The comment shows a strong support for Saakahsvili among key bankers of Ukraine in the European Union, a development that puts growing pressure on Poroshenko to change course and to allow Saakashvili participate in the political process.
Saakashvili, a former governor of Odessa region and a former president of Georgia, is an adamantly pro-Western reformist and anti-corruption crusader. Saakashvili has recently arrived in Poland from the U.S., cancelling his trip to Ukraine after Ukrainian authorities had threatened to extradite him to Georgia, which has an open investigation into his alleged wrongdoing. He said allegations of wrongdoing in Georgia were politically motivated.
Linkevicius spoke with Saakashvili while on a recent trip to Poland.
Saakashvili said Ukrainian authorities apparently used a fake application while revoking his citizenship, a move that makes it illegal.
Saakashvili on July 27 has vowed to resist what he called the "cowardly" move by Poroshenko to strip him of citizenship. He said he will "continue fighting for a real European Ukraine."
A liberal lawmaker from Poroshenko's faction in parliament, Serhiy Leshchenko, said it appeared the president's intention was to force Saakashvili to stay out of Ukraine and seek refuge in the United States.
That "will never happen," Saakashvili, who had written in Facebook on July 25 that he was in the United States, said in the video. "I will fight for my legal right to return to Ukraine."
He resigned as Odesa governor in November 2016, complaining of official obstruction of anticorruption efforts, accusing Poroshenko of dishonesty, and charging that the central government was sabotaging crucial reforms. (nr/ez)