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Report: Ukraine’s Top Prosecutor Attacks Populist Protesters with Ax

Luxury holidays of top politicians spark scandal in Ukraine
AFP/Petras Malukas
FRANCES MARTEL

Protesters who support Ukraine’s populist Movement of New Forces claimed this week that the nation’s top prosecutor Yuriy Lutsenko lunged at their protest tent Monday night brandishing an ax.

Lutsenko has become a major adversary of the Movement of New Forces since leading the charge to deport the party’s leader, Mikheil Saakashvili, the former president of Georgia and governor of Odessa, Ukraine, who has had his citizenship revoked from both countries and now remains stateless.

Ukrainian officials arrested and deported Saakashvili this month after he entered the country from Poland without a passport in September, organizing the new party and denouncing widespread corruption within President Petro Poroshenko’s government. Poroshenko hired Saakashvili to weed out corruption in Odessa, but Saakashvili resigned in disgust in 2016, accusing Poroshenko of partaking in the corruption.

The Kyiv Post reports that Saakashvili supporters have established themselves in front of Prosecutor General Yuriy Lutsenko’s home in the capital city, setting up a tent and living out of it to demand the release of a party official arrested in December on unexplained charges. Pavlo Bogomazov, Saakashvili’s attorney, told the newspaper that “Lutsenko had broken the tent’s electric power generator with an axe and shouted at the protesters, telling them to get away from his house.”

That incident occurred before a major clash on Tuesday between protesters tied to another opposition group, the “Liberation Movement,” and police in front of Kyiv’s parliament building. Government officials claim the protesters had attempted to set tires on fire and targeted police with Molotov cocktails once they intervened to stop the fires. The incident occurred in a tent camp put together by Saakashvili protesters, which has been there since October. Saakashvili himself hid in the camp in December before being arrested a second time.

Reports vary on the number of protesters participating in the brawl, with some suggesting “dozens” rallied, while others put the number at “hundreds.” The Kyiv Post states that 14 officers were injured in the melee.

The continued unrest in Kyiv has hurt Poroshenko’s government, which insists that Saakashvili’s corruption accusations are unfounded. Lutsenko has repeatedly accused Saakashvili and other Movement of New Forces leaders, including the arrested Severion Dangadze, of ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin. Saakashvili has decried the accusations as “fake” and “ridiculous.”

“There is no more bitter foe of Putin in the world than me, and the accusation that I am linked to Russia is completely absurd,” Saakashvili told reporters in December. As president of Georgia, Saakashvili led the country through Putin’s invasion of two provinces, South Ossetia and Abkhazia, demanding the international community intervene to remove Putin from power. Saakashvili’s anti-Putin bona fides largely factored into his hiring as governor of Odessa.

In an attempt to keep Saakashvili from continuing to agitate against them, government officials have banned Saakashvili from entering Ukraine at all for the next three years. Saakashvili continues not to have a passport, which would complicate his ability to travel, anyway, but in the event that he procures citizenship somewhere he would still not be allowed to enter the country.

A coalition of minority parties have nonetheless called for Ukraine to allow Saakashvili, a leader of a political party in the country, to return. Poroshenko did not appear interested in allowing such a thing during a press conference Wednesday.

“There were dreams, ideals, Mikhail, unfortunately, he himself destroyed them, I do not think that now he is a happy person,” he told reporters when asked about Saakashvili’s current state.

Poroshenko continues to face criticism for running a corrupt government with or without Saakashvili in the country. The New York Times details the growing narrative of corruption in the country:

Conflicts of interest are so widespread “that you are no longer even shocked,” said Aivaras Abromavicius, a former investment banker from Lithuania who helped lead a since-becalmed push for clean government while serving as Ukraine’s minister of economy and trade. “They are all over the place. It is sad, depressing and discouraging.”

Such disappointment has already cost Ukraine dearly. The International Monetary Fund and the European Union, frustrated by foot-dragging over the establishment of a long-promised independent anticorruption court and other setbacks, have suspended assistance money totaling more than $5 billion.

“Ukraine lived for decades in a state of total corruption,” said Artem Sytnyk, director of the National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine, known as NABU, an independent agency set up in 2015 during an initial burst of enthusiasm for clean government following the ouster of Mr. Yanukovych. “These schemes have now been renewed and are again working. Some people simply don’t want to get rid of them.”

The corruption threatens an ongoing effort in the nation’s east to expel Russian rebel forces. While Putin invaded Ukraine years ago, annexing the Crimean peninsula in 2014, the war continues on the border. At an event on Monday, U.S. envoy on Ukraine Amb. Kurt Volker said fighting continued “every night: mortars, tank rounds, sniper fire, artillery.”

“It’s both a hot war and a significant humanitarian issue,” he emphasized. “Right in Europe, right there, a couple hours flight from Munich. It’s really striking.”

Poroshenko announced on Wednesday he would be receiving U.S. weapons soon. “The first delivery should happen in a very few weeks,” he told reporters.

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