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Former president Mikheil Saakashvili held over coup claim

REUTERS

Mikheil Saakashvili, the former Georgian president turned opposition leader in Ukraine, has appeared in court in Kiev.

Saakashvili is under investigation for alleged cooperation with Russia-linked "criminal groups" and has denounced his prosecution as an attempt to remove him from public activities.

He was arrested Friday, and faces charges of colluding with Ukrainian businessmen tied to Russian Federation in an attempt to bring down Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, and prosecutors sought to have him put under house arrest. No day for that has been announced.

Saakashvili could be extradited to Georgia where he is wanted on corruption charges.

Saakashvili rose to power in Georgia during the 2003 Rose Revolution that drove then President Eduard Shevardnadze from office.

But a year later, Saakashvili accused him of protecting corrupt oligarchs and resigned, moving to the opposition. During his tenure, he earned wide admiration for anti-corruption efforts, including revamping the police force, but critics said the headstrong leader showed a growing authoritarian streak.

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Poroshenko brought Saakashvili and his team to Ukraine in 2015, gave him the Ukrainian citizenship and appointed him as the governor of the Odessa region to use his image as the author of Georgia's successful reforms.

He was later stripped of his Ukrainian citizenship, becoming stateless as he had lost his Georgian citizenship to gain the Ukrainian one.

"I'm not afraid. I consider myself a prisoner of the Ukrainian oligarchy", Interfax cited Saakashvili as saying.

"It is more hard when Mikheil is not with us", Saakashvili's wife, Sandra Roelofs, said to protesters.

Saakashvili's detention and his call for a protest on Sunday raise tensions in a country shaken by two massive protest uprisings in this century.

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