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FILE PHOTO: Former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili speaks during an interview with Reuters in Kiev, Ukraine, November 16, 2016. Picture taken November 16, 2016. REUTERS/Valentyn Ogirenko/File Photo(reuters_tickers)
By Alessandra Prentice
KIEV (Reuters) - Ex-Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili said he would fight Kiev's decision to strip him of his Ukrainian citizenship, saying it was an attempt to stifle political opposition that betrayed the aims of Ukraine's 2013-14 pro-European uprising.
Saakashvili had been building a new political career in Ukraine after President Petro Poroshenko appointed him as governor of the Odessa region in 2015. But relations between the two men soured and Saakashvili resigned last November, citing opposition to reform, and set up a new political party.
Poroshenko stripped Saakashvili of his Ukrainian citizenship on Wednesday for allegedly providing false information on his citizenship registration form in 2015.
In a video posted on Facebook overnight, however, Saakashvili said the decision was politically motivated.
"As soon as those in power realised that the opposition is unifying in order to come out into the streets this fall and put an end to their oligarchic pact, their fear overcame their reason," he said.
Saakashvili is currently in the United States and the withdrawal of his Ukrainian citizenship has left him stateless. He lost his Georgian citizenship in 2015 after becoming a Ukrainian national.
"Now there is an attempt underway to force me to become a refugee. This will not happen! ... I will fight for my legal right to return to Ukraine!," he said.
The ex-Georgian leader, whose country was attacked by Russian forces in 2008 and who is loathed by the Kremlin, was once a natural ally for Poroshenko after Moscow annexed Ukraine's Crimea region in 2014.
But Saakashvili, who served as Georgian president from 2004 to 2013, has become one of Poroshenko's most vocal critics, casting doubts on the Western-backed Kiev government's commitment to tackling entrenched corruption.
Attacking Poroshenko's record on reforms, Saakashvili said: "Today the entire country has understood the price of your promises 'to live anew'".
Poroshenko's administration did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Saakashvili's accusations against the president. It has previously said that Saaskashvili had failed as governor of Odessa to deliver change.
Saakashvili's party, 'Movement of New Forces' (MNF), called on Ukrainians to gather in central Kiev later on Thursday to protest against the abuse of authority.
Betting on early parliamentary elections, MNF has sought to unite opposition forces, but a June survey by Ukrainian group Rating gave the party only 2 percent support, while Poroshenko's bloc was on six percent.
Political analyst Serhiy Gaidai said Poroshenko's decision showed he disliked political opposition.
"Every Ukrainian president has a moment when he thinks he can do whatever he wants with impunity and this becomes the start of his political downfall," Gaidai wrote on Facebook.
(Additional reporting by Natalia Zinets; Writing by Alessandra Prentice; Editing by Gareth Jones)