Georgia threatens to strip ex-leader Saakashvili's citizenship

Georgia threatens to strip ex-leader Saakashvili's citizenship
Mikheil Saakashvili (above).

TBILISI - Georgia has threatened to revoke pro-Western former president Mikheil Saakashvili's citizenship after he was granted a Ukrainian passport and appointed as governor of the strategic Odessa region.

Georgian President Giorgi Margvelashvili said Saakashvili's move, which according to the constitution, could lead to the loss of Georgian citizenship, "insulted our state." "The (former) Georgian president should not have given up his Georgian citizenship," he said in televised comments late Sunday.

The appointment on Saturday of the flamboyant Saakashvili, who fought a war with Russia, as head of Ukraine's southern coastal region is 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.

Georgia's Justice Minister, Tea Tsulukiani, said Saakashvili will remain a Georgian national until the current president formally revokes his citizenship by a special decree.

"Let this hang upon him as a sword of Damocles. It will be a political decision and we will take it whenever we want," she told journalists on Sunday.

Saakashvili has recently been living in exile after authorities last year issued an arrest warrant for him on abuse of power charges that he insists are politically motivated.

A slew of Saakashvili's top allies have been investigated and some jailed since his United National Movement party was defeated in parliamentary and presidential elections in 2012 and 2013 by the Georgian Dream coalition.

The United States and European Union have voiced concerns over what they perceive as a witch-hunt against Saakashvili and his entourage.

Last year, authorities seized Saakashvili's two-hectare vineyard in east Georgia, a small apartment belonging to him in Tbilisi, his wife's flat in the capital, tiny plots of land owned by his mother and grandmother, and his grandmother's 10-year-old Toyota car.

During his time at the helm in Georgia, Saakashvili, 47, became an arch-nemesis of the Russian leadership 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.

Reformist Saakashvili is hugely popular in Ukraine for his anti-Kremlin stance, but is a deeply divisive figure in Georgia due to the painful reforms he introduced.

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