PHNOM PENH: Cambodia’s parliament voted on Monday to allow the prosecution of opposition leader Kem Sokha on treason charges that have been criticized by Western countries and are dismissed by his party as nonsense.
Kem Sokha’s arrest on Sept. 3 marked an escalation in a crackdown on critics of Prime Minister Hun Sen ahead of an election next year in which he could face the toughest electoral challenge of more than three decades in power.
Kem Sokha’s Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP) boycotted the parliamentary vote, but it passed easily because Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) has a majority. The vote was passed with 67 out of 123 voting in favor. None opposed it.
The vote was specifically on whether to prosecute Kem Sokha and it was unclear what it meant for the status of the parliamentary immunity from prosecution that he technically gets as an elected member of parliament.
The evidence presented against Kem Sokha so far is a video recorded in 2013 in which he discusses a strategy to win power with the help of unspecified Americans. His lawyers have dismissed the evidence as nonsense and said he was only discussing election strategy.
National Assembly President Heng Samrin said the vote allowed the government “to proceed with the case of arresting, detaining and charging Kem Sokha.”
Parliamentarians from the opposition party said they would go to the prison where Kem Sokha is being held to demand his release. Security was increased at the prison, several hours drive from the capital Phnom Penh near the border with Vietnam.
Hun Sen, a 65-year-old former Khmer Rouge commander, has ruled Cambodia for more than 30 years and said last week that he planned to stay in power for another decade.
Western countries and human rights groups have raised doubts as to whether next year’s election can be fair after the arrest of Kem Sokha and a crackdown on the opposition, activists and independent media. But Hun Sen has support from his main ally, China.
PHNOM PENH: Cambodia’s parliament voted on Monday to allow the prosecution of opposition leader Kem Sokha on treason charges that have been criticized by Western countries and are dismissed by his party as nonsense.
YANGON/SHAH PORIR DWIP ISLAND, Bangladesh: M yanmar on Sunday rebuffed a cease-fire declared by Muslim Rohingya insurgents to enable the delivery of aid to thousands of displaced people in the violence-racked state of Rakhine, declaring simply that it did not negotiate with terrorists.
Attacks by militants on police posts and an army base on Aug. 25 prompted a military counter-offensive that triggered an exodus of Rohingya to Bangladesh, adding to the hundreds of thousands already there from previous spasms of conflict.
According to the latest estimate by UN workers in the Cox’s Bazar region of southern Bangladesh, about 294,000 — many of them sick or wounded — have arrived in just 15 days, putting huge strain on humanitarian agencies’ operations.
Thousands of Rohingya remaining in the north-western state of Rakhine have been left without shelter or food, and many are still trying to cross mountains, dense bush and rice fields to reach Bangladesh.
The Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) insurgent group declared a month-long unilateral cease-fire, starting on Sunday, so that aid could reach these people.
The impact of ARSA’s move is unclear, but it does not appear to have been able to put up significant resistance against the military force unleashed in Rakhine state, where thousands of homes have been burned down and dozens of villages destroyed.
ARSA’s declaration drew no formal response from the military or the government of Buddhist-majority Myanmar. However, the spokesman for Myanmar’s leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, said on Twitter: “We have no policy to negotiate with terrorists.”
Myanmar says its security forces are carrying out clearance operations to defend against ARSA, which the government has declared a terrorist organization.
Human rights monitors and fleeing Rohingya say the army and Rakhine Buddhist vigilantes have mounted a campaign of arson aimed at driving out the Rohingya, whose population is estimated at around 1.1 million.
About a dozen Muslim villages were burned down on Friday and Saturday in the ethnically mixed Rathedaung region of Rakhine, two sources monitoring the situation said.
“Slowly, one after another, villages are being burnt down — I believe that Rohingyas are already wiped out completely from Rathedaung,” said one of the sources, Chris Lewa of the Arakan Project, a Rohingya monitoring group.
It was unclear who torched the villages, and independent journalists are not allowed into the area.
In Cox’s Bazar, Reuters journalists saw waves of Rohingya arriving on Sunday, and crowds of desperate people — mostly women and children — queuing for handouts of food and clothes.
More than 300 people arrived on small boats and fishing trawlers on Shah Porir Dwip island, a short distance from the mouth of the Naf river that separates the two countries and flows out into the Bay of Bengal. Many collapsed on the beach from motion sickness and dehydration.
Three Rohingya were killed by land mines on Saturday as they tried to cross from Myanmar, a Bangladeshi border guard said, and Amnesty International said there were two land mine incidents on Sunday, including a blast that blew off a man’s leg.
“All indications point to the Myanmar security forces deliberately targeting locations that Rohingya refugees use as crossing points,” Tirana Hassan, Amnesty international’s Crisis Response Director, said in a statement.
“This is a cruel and callous way of adding to the misery of people fleeing a systematic campaign of persecution,” she said.
A Myanmar military source told Reuters last week that land mines had been laid along the border in the 1990s to prevent trespassing and the military had since tried to remove them. But none had been planted recently.
Dipayan Bhattacharyya, the World Food Programme’s spokesman in Bangladesh, said the latest estimate of new arrivals was 294,000 and there were discussions underway to revise up the prediction made last week that it would reach 300,000.
The government of Bangladesh is planning for an influx of up to 400,000, Additional Superintendent of Police for Cox’s Bazar Afruzul Haque Tutul told Reuters.
The United Nations has appealed for aid funding of $77 million to cope with the emergency in southern Bangladesh.
The wave of hungry and traumatized refugees is “showing no signs of stopping,” the UN Resident Coordinator in Bangladesh Robert Watkins said in a statement late on Saturday.
“It is vital that aid agencies working in Cox’s Bazar have the resources they need to provide emergency assistance to incredibly vulnerable people who have been forced to flee their homes and have arrived in Bangladesh with nothing,” he said.
The International Crisis Group said in a report that the strife in Rakhine is causing more than a humanitarian crisis.
“It is also driving up the risks that the country’s five-year-old transition from military rule will stumble, that Rohingya communities will be radicalized, and that regional stability will be weakened,” it said.
Aung San Suu Kyi has come under international pressure to halt the violence. Critics complain that Suu Kyi, who won a Nobel peace prize for championing democracy, has failed to speak out for a minority that has long complained of persecution.
KIKWIT, DR Congo: Twenty five people were killed and 57 others injured Sunday when a bus overturned in the southeast of the Democratic Republic of Congo, according to an official toll.
The accident on National Road Number 1 caused “25 deaths and 57 serious injuries” according to the official toll which was announced on public television.
Leonard Mutangu, mayor of the town of Kikwit, told AFP earlier that there had been 13 deaths and 64 injured in the accident involving a bus from a Congolese company heading from Kikwit to Kinshasa.
An AFP correspondent who arrived at the scene shortly after the crash said there were bodies in the road and other people still trapped in the vehicle.
Dozens of the wounded were lying in the street, some of them still bleeding heavily.
The injured were evacuated to a public hospital in Kikwit, a large town situated some 20 kilometers (12 miles) from the incident.
“We are overwhelmed with the number of injured, especially as the pharmacy is out of medicine. Managing the fallout from this accident will be difficult,” said Guy Kilundu, a doctor at the Kikwit hospital.
“Excessive speed” and “drunkenness” on the part of the driver, who died at the scene, is likely to be the cause of the accident, according to survivors interviewed by AFP.
Accidents on DR Congo’s roads are often deadly. On Friday, 11 people were killed when a freight truck overturned on a road in Kasai, in the center of the country.
SYDNEY: Researchers say a combination of new treatments can stop the world’s deadliest form of skin cancer — melanoma — in its tracks and halt its spread to other organs.
Results from two international drug trials conducted by the Sydney-based Melanoma Institute Australia have proved successful in preventing the disease spreading in stage three patients whose tumors had been surgically removed.
Until now, these patients were at a high risk (40 to 70 percent) of the disease becoming advanced and fatal.
“Results from these clinical trials suggest we can stop the disease in its tracks — effectively preventing it from spreading and saving lives,” the institute’s medical director Georgina Long said in research published in the New England Journal of Medicine Monday.
“Our ultimate goal of making melanoma a chronic rather than a terminal illness is now so much closer to being achieved.”
One in every three cancers diagnosed is a skin cancer, according to the World Health Organization, with Australia having among the highest incidences of melanoma in the world. One Australian dies from it every five hours.
While 90 percent of people can be cured by having the primary cancer removed through surgery, it spreads in the other 10 percent because it is detected too late.
“These results will change the way we treat melanoma patients as well as their quality of life,” added Long.
“Until now, Stage III melanoma patients who have had their tumors surgically removed have simply had to play the waiting game, to see if their melanoma would metastasize or spread.
“Living with such fear severely affected them and their loved ones.”
The researchers conducted two 12-month trials, one immunotherapy-based and the other with targeted therapies. Both proved successful in preventing the disease spreading.
In one of them, targeted therapies (dabrafenib and trametinib) blocked the action of a particular gene, BRAF, which is a driver for melanoma.
It not only stopped stage three melanoma from recurring in those with tumors removed, but increased overall survival, the research showed.
The other trial treated patients with the immunotherapy nivolumab or ipilimumab — designed to reboot the immune system to attack melanoma cells. Results showed nivolumab decreased the chance of relapse.
“These clinical trials show we now have ammunition to prevent melanoma spreading and progressing, which until now was a critical area of disease behavior where we had no control,” said Long.
“This will change how melanoma is treated around the world, as we no longer have to passively wait to see if the melanoma spreads.”
The clinical trial results are due to be presented to the European Society for Medical Oncology’s annual congress in Spain this week.
MIAMI, US: Cranes atop two downtown Miami high rises under construction collapsed in the face of 100-mph (160-kph) winds as Hurricane Irma ripped through the Florida city on Sunday, days after authorities warned about dangers that the approaching storm.
Soon after one of the cranes collapsed, the chief executive of the company developing the building told Reuters he was attending the US Open tennis tournament in New York when the accident occurred and had just learned about it.
“This particular crane, some of it was taken down,” Jorge Perez, chief executive of The Related Group, Miami’s largest developer, said by telephone. “They were surprised that it went down because they felt it was one of the more secure cranes, so we’re right on it.”
A video posted on Twitter showed the crane’s boom dangling above the unfinished building.
No injuries were reported in either of the collapses, and investigations would begin after the storm cleared, officials said.
That collapse at the Related property came hours after heavy winds snapped the boom of another crane erected on top of a Miami apartment building under construction. The project was being developed by New York-based Property Markets Group, according to The Real Deal, a South Florida real estate news website.
After the collapse, the boom was partly dangling on the side of the building, attached to the crane tower by a cable, photos on Twitter showed. Attempts to reach Property Markets Group offices in New York and Miami were unsuccessful.
“There will have to be an investigation by the proper authorities to see if they were properly assembled,” City Manager Daniel Alfonso said.
The city had been in touch with Perez but the state of Florida and the US Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) had jurisdiction over the cranes, Alfonso said. No one was immediately available to comment at OSHA or the governor’s office.
Investigators would have to wait until Monday to start looking into the incidents, Alfonso said.
The National Weather Service recorded wind gusts in Miami reaching about 100 mph (160 kph) in the late morning and early afternoon, with sustained winds of 50 to 60 mph (80 to 96 kph), as Irma moved up Florida’s west coast.
As Irma approached last week, Miami officials said 20 to 25 construction cranes were up across the city and that they were designed to withstand winds of 145 mph (235 kph).
It warned that the cranes had to be unpinned, so that their horizontal booms could rotate on their support columns like a weather vane.
The city had advised against staying in a building next to a construction crane during a storm like Irma.
“The arm’s counterbalance is very heavy and poses a potential danger if the crane collapses,” the statement said.
DUBAI: It took us about three hours to reach Kandahar. Caught up in my thoughts, I barely spoke with my travel companion Othman — the man assigned by Osama bin Laden to handle logistics for my interview with him in June 2001.
It was dark when we entered the city. Our transport turned from the main road into a maze of semi-paved streets, then on to sand. Most of the houses in the area were built of mud and their condition spoke volumes about their owners’ financial circumstances.
Stopping overnight at a house in Kandahar, I struggled to sleep under the stress of the situation and the scorching heat of the city.
Around 6 a.m., Othman woke me up. It felt as if I had slept less than an hour. Another man entered the room. I did not recognize him at first, but when he introduced himself as Abu Hafs, I knew the name. This was Mohammed Atif, aka Abu Hafs, the military leader of Al-Qaeda.
He joined me and Othman for breakfast: Naan bread, butter, jam and eggs. While we ate, he said they now had enough trained fighters to fight the “coming battle” and were in full mobility mode. In any emergency, he explained, they could evacuate their bases and move to other battle-ready locations within half an hour. After 9/11, I remembered what Abu Hafs had said and how the Tora Bora caves were prepared to shelter Al-Qaeda’s leadership and soldiers.
We resumed our journey after breakfast. I could feel the terrain change from cracked road to rigid and wild track, over which the old rust-bucket bus bounced and juddered most of the way to our destination.
After three hours we stopped at a residence renovated in the form of a fortified compound, with unscaleable boundary walls and a massive gate. This was perhaps the lion’s den. I could see a small contingent of men inside. The compound was like the fortress of an “underground world.” There were enough weapons and ammunition to bring an entire city under siege. After a thorough security inspection and body pat down, I was pointed toward one of the rooms, and men turned monsters stared back as I made my way inside.
Dressed in a white-smoke colored traditional Arabic thobe, and with a typical bright white Middle Eastern turban on his head, a commanding personality stood in the center of the room waiting to greet me along with his trusted companion — a variant of the famous Russian AK-47. This was Osama bin Laden, the most wanted man in the world, a declared terrorist with a $5 million bounty on his head even then. Next to him was Ayman Al-Zawahiri, the second most-wanted terrorist in the world, who now leads the remnants of Al-Qaeda.
As I stepped farther into the room, Bin Laden moved forward and hugged me in the customary Afghan greeting style. The others followed suit. I was being hugged by the most notorious personality on the planet, surrounded by all his men, declared by the world as “terrorists with evil plans.” The thought of a laser-guided missile striking the compound and annihilating us all at any moment loomed large in my mind.
As we sat down on a cotton mattress on the floor, Bin Laden said: “The plan has changed, I will only give reserved comments.” He said he was restrained by an understanding with the Taliban not to talk to the media. Of course, I had no idea that the twisted statements he gave me later would materialize in the catastrophic attacks on the Twin Towers, which killed over 3,000 innocent people.
Bin Laden had been openly criticized by his followers and the leadership of Al-Qaeda for backtracking on his commitments. His promise to the Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar, that he would refrain from media statements and meeting journalists, was broken. But his pledge not to use Afghan soil as a base for attacks on any foreign country was the most vital of Bin Laden’s broken accords with the Taliban, a deceit that cost his hosts their fiefdom and led to a war with consequences that have been unfolding since 2001.
I asked him what news he wanted to give me. He repeated that the news was about some future attacks. Abu Hafs intervened, and said: “In the coming weeks, there will be a big surprise; we are going to hit American and Israeli installations.” Chillingly, he added: “The coffin business will increase in the United States.”
I looked at Bin Laden and asked if he was serious, seeking confirmation. He smiled at me and nodded in agreement. Bin Laden had few words, but Al-Zawahiri was anxious to talk. He said they would strike the head of the snake first, meaning the US, and confirmed that the Egyptian militant group Islamic Jihad had merged with Al-Qaeda in April of that year.
Tea was served, then Bin Laden’s personal photographer was ready to snap a few shots, and to film the three of us as I sat on the right of Al-Zawahiri with Bin Laden on his left.
Bin Laden shook hands with me and said he would be inviting me again after the success of their objective. His parting words to me were: “If something big happens, I will be hiding in the tribal areas of Pakistan. That’s where you can come again to interview me.” He left the room, followed by Al-Zawahiri and Abu Hafs.
By “something big,” of course, he meant the 9/11 attacks. It felt odd to hear Bin Laden say this, since a fugitive of his stature, the most wanted man in the world, would surely not disclose his whereabouts or divulge operational secrets. To me, it felt misleading. Later, Abdullah, Bin Laden’s son, wrote that his father actually planned to settle in Kunar province in northeast Afghanistan, but when US forces took control of the province he moved to Peshawar city in Pakistan, then Haripur, before settling in Abbottabad, where he was eventually found and killed.
After the meeting, I was taken back to the same house in Kandahar where I had spent the previous night. I was anxious to get back to civilization and break this news to the world.
After crossing the border to Pakistan, I sat in the departure lounge in Quetta waiting for my flight to Islamabad, deep in thought, wondering about the dilemma I faced. Should I report the truth, the news, however bad? Or would I be projecting violence and terror?
In the end, the truth won, as it should. My story was broadcast on MBC on June 23, 2001. In my concluding remarks, I said the coming days would reveal who would attack first, and how big this attack would be. As we all now know, it was huge, catastrophic and terrifying, and it shook the world, but the ripple effect brought much chaos and disaster back to where it was planned. Southeast Asia in general, and Afghanistan in particular, still yearn for peace and stability 16 years on.
In November 2001, my phone rang again. It was Othman. “The person” was ready to meet me as promised, he said. “Will you?”
ISLAMABAD: To Americans, he is the hero who helped them hunt down and kill Osama bin Laden. To Pakistanis, he is a villain who betrayed his country. On one thing, however, both countries are agreed: Dr. Shakil Afridi will not be released from prison any time soon.
“There’s no deal on Afridi,” a US State Department official said. And a retired Pakistani intelligence officer who helped to investigate the raid in which Bin Laden was killed said: “There’s no agreement, and there won’t be for the foreseeable future.”
Indeed, in the opinion of the intelligence officer, the jailed doctor is lucky to be alive. “Had he been convicted of conspiring against the state and aiding a foreign country, he would have been sentenced to death.”
Afridi, 54, helped the CIA to run a fake Hepatitis vaccination program aimed at confirming Bin Laden’s presence in Abbottabad, Pakistan, by collecting DNA samples.
A few days after US Special Forces raided the Bin Laden compound on May 2, 2011, and killed the Al-Qaeda leader, Afridi was arrested at a border crossing while trying to flee the country. A year later he was sentenced to 33 years in prison for treason.
The conviction was overturned on a technicality, and a retrial ordered, but in November 2013 Afridi was charged with murder over the death of a patient eight years before, and he has been prison ever since. The next hearing in his case will be on Sept. 28.
The Afridi affair has contributed to a souring in relations between Washington and Islamabad, dating back to the presidency of Barack Obama. Legislation was introduced into the US Congress to award Afridi a Congressional Gold Medal and make him a naturalized US citizen, and in 2014 a Senate panel cut aid to Pakistan by $33 million — $1m for each year of the doctor’s sentence.
Last year, Donald Trump said he could have Afridi released “in two minutes.” Pakistan’s interior minister at the time, Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, replied that the US president “should learn to treat sovereign states with respect.”
Afridi, he said, “is a Pakistani citizen, and nobody else has the right to dictate to us his future. Trump’s perception and his comments about Pakistan are highly misplaced and unwarranted.”
And this week the US Embassy in Islamabad told Arab News: “We believe Dr. Afridi has been unjustly imprisoned and we have clearly communicated our position to Pakistan on Dr. Afridi’s case, both in public and in private. We continue to raise this issue at the highest levels during discussions with Pakistan’s leadership. Pakistan has assured us that Dr. Afridi is being treated humanely and is in good health.”
* * *
Afridi was detained by Pakistani security officials at the Torkham border crossing into Nangarhar province in Afghanistan 20 days after the Bin Laden raid, when his phone number was discovered on a cell phone at the Al-Qaeda leader’s compound. He was interrogated first in Peshawar, then in Islamabad for nearly a year.
The revelations about the fake Hepatitis vaccinations had unintended consequences. Militants denounced a crucial and life-saving polio inoculation campaign as “American poison,” and killed health workers administering the medication. In September 2012, while in prison, Afridi asked that a press release be distributed saying that his vaccination campaign was not fake, and was unconnected with polio, in hopes of reassuring the public.
There is considerable doubt about whether his collection of DNA samples actually identified Bin Laden, but CIA spies were alerted when one of Afridi’s nurses used the doctor’s phone to contact Bin Laden’s courier, Abu Ahmad Al-Kuwaiti. The courier’s “voice was well known” to the US intelligence community, and the contact reinforced the CIA’s view that the compound held a “high priority individual.”
After the raid, Afridi’s female CIA handlers urged him several times to leave Pakistan. He held a valid US visa, but was reluctant to travel with his wife and three children through hostile tribal territory where he had been abducted by militants in 2008. In the end, he decided to stay because there was a problem with his wife’s visa. It was to prove his undoing.
On May 23, 2012, after 12 months in detention, Afridi was taken from Islamabad to Peshawar, sentenced to 33 years in prison and denied the legal right to a defense.
His lawyer, Qamar Nadeem, and Afridi’s brother were allowed to meet him in prison under tight monitoring, until an interview he gave to two American TV reporters was broadcast on Sept. 10, 2012. A few days later, everyone, including Afridi’s family and lawyers, were barred from meeting him. Reports emerged that he was on hunger strike.
On Nov. 20, 2013, a letter from Afridi written on a torn biscuit carton was smuggled out of prison. “My legal right to consult with my lawyers is being denied,” Afridi wrote. He decried his isolated confinement, and asked: “What sort of court and justice is this?” It is the last known correspondence from the doctor.
Afridi’s lawyer, Nadeem, last met his client in August 2012. “Since then we haven’t been able to meet him,” he said, despite a high court order reinstating access. “The State wanted to stop Afridi from speaking out. Therefore, a ban to meet him was put in effect. But things have become more relaxed, and his family are allowed to meet him every month or so.”
* * *
A year after Afridi was sentenced, there were reports of an agreement to exchange him for Dr. Afia Siddiqui, a Pakistani-born, US-educated neurosurgeon serving 86 years in a maximum-security medical detention center in Fort Worth, Texas.
Siddiqui, 45, known in the US as “Lady Al-Qaeda,” was arrested in Afghanistan by American forces in July 2008, and convicted in 2010 on seven counts of attempted murder and assault of US military personnel.
Both the US and Pakistan denied the exchange reports. “Whether there was a deal previously, I don’t know,” said the State Department official. The Pakistani intelligence officer said a swap was “out of the question. She clearly was an Al-Qaeda associate. We won’t negotiate a terrorist for a traitor.”
Afridi’s lawyer, Nadeem, said Siddiqui’s representative contacted him to discuss a possible exchange. “I told her I needed to consult Afridi’s family members and my team before giving any response. We couldn’t move forward on it and the representative abandoned further efforts.”
Meanwhile, Nadeem is working pro bono in the hope that someone will foot the mounting legal costs. The lawyer’s legal fees are not the only potential loss. Involvement in the Afridi case can be fatal. Nadeem’s colleague was murdered by the Taliban for defending Afridi, and the commissioner who ordered a retrial died in a gas explosion.
The only support Afridi’s case has received is from beyond Pakistan’s borders because “there is a lot of popular antipathy toward him, and the state and pro-state voices in the public space have painted him as a traitor,” said Mustafa Qadri, a human rights expert and founder of Equidem Research and Consulting. “This all makes it very difficult for civil society to actively support his case and his family,” who are in hiding, living in fear of public reprisal.
Nevertheless, Nadeem remains undeterred, despite four dozen inconclusive court hearings, and frustration at what he says are deliberate attempts by the state prosecutor to prolong the case by failing to appear for hearings.
The only remaining option that legal experts and officials in the Pakistani government point to is a full pardon from the governor of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province or the president of Pakistan, both of which seem highly unlikely. Nadeem also wants the abolition of the tribal law under which Afridi was charged, and has not given up hope of a deal between the US and Pakistan. “If both the countries come to an agreement, Afridi will be released.”
The lawyer is also offering the media rights to Afridi’s life story, if Hollywood or foreign publishers are interested. “But nothing so far has happened.”
MEDYKA, Poland: Former Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili and hundreds of his supporters on Sunday forced their way into Ukraine in a bid by the firebrand politician to reclaim his citizenship stripped by President Petro Poroshenko after they fell out.
The one-time Ukraine governor and his supporters entered from Poland’s Medyka border crossing, pushing aside Ukrainian border guards who had turned him back just hours earlier.
“They did it against all the rules, what’s happening here?” Saakashvili told reporters in Medyka when he was initially refused entry, adding: “We hope that we can still break through.”
At that point hundreds of his supporters chanting “Misha, Misha” — a diminutive of his name — forced their way into Poland from Ukraine and marched back along with Saakashvili, who now risks extradition to his native Georgia.
Saakashvili was president of his native country Georgia in from January 2004 to November 2013, during which he foughtt and lost a brief war with Russia in 2008.
Barred by the constitution of Georgia from seeking a third term, he left for Ukraine, which granted him citizenship. Georgia subsequently cancelled his citizenship.
But he quit in November 2016 amid a dramatic falling out with Poroshenko, who stripped him of his Ukrainian citizenship in July while he was out of the country.
Now, Saakashvili wants to return to challenge that decision in court and get back into politics.
On Tuesday, Georgia asked Ukraine to extradite Saakashvili to face charges of misappropriation of property and abuse of office among others.
Saakashvili denies the accusations branding them a political witch hunt.
He says Georgia’s extradition request was driven by “oligarchs” who fear his presence in Ukraine, where he fought corruption.
Earlier Sunday, Ukrainian authorities blocked a Kiev-bound train in Poland carrying Saakashvili, who eventually got off and took a bus to the Medyka crossing.
Ukraine’s outspoken ex-prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko threw her support behind the 49-year-old, accompanying him as he attempted to cross into Ukraine the first time.
Saakashvili said “several hundred thugs were mobilized by the Ukrainian government to stop several thousand” of his supporters waiting to greet him on the Ukrainian side.
Kiev is “panicking,” Saakashvili said, adding that he did “not want to overthrow President Poroshenko” but just defend his rights.
“We believe that Mikheil Saakashvili can lead our country out of the crisis,” Lyudmyla Goretska, one of thousands of supporters waiting in Krakovets on the Ukrainian side of the border, told AFP.
“We see what he did in his own country and that’s enough for us,” Goretska said of Saakashvili, who set up the Movement of the New Forces political party in Ukraine.
“The main problem in our country is corruption… We need to overcome the oligarchy.”
The charismatic Saakashvili is credited with pushing through pro-Western and anti-graft reforms in Georgia which he led from 2004 to 2013.
Another supporter, Maria, 49, who declined to give her surname, said she believes “Saakashvili is the future president” of Ukraine and “will finish the war” with Russia.
“We see a roll-back of reforms in Ukraine, we see a crackdown on anti-corruption activities in Ukraine. This is very sad,” Saakashvili said Friday in Warsaw.
Saakashvili has brandished his Ukrainian passport on several occasions and also maintains that officials working for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in Geneva have confirmed his status as “stateless in Ukraine,” meaning he has the right to be there to appeal against Poroshenko’s decision to withdraw his citizenship.
Kiev justified the move by claiming that Saakashvili had provided “inaccurate information” in his citizenship application.
FORT MYERS/MIAMI, US: Hurricane Irma lost some strength as it lashed southern Florida on Sunday afternoon, but forecasts warned it would remain a powerful storm as it flooded Miami streets and knocked out power to about 1.8 million homes and businesses.
All of southern Florida was feeling the storm’s effects, with at least one man killed, a woman forced to deliver her own baby and trees and apartment towers swaying in high winds.
The National Hurricane Center said the storm had maximum sustained winds of 120 miles per hour (195 kph), dropping it to a Category 3, the midpoint of the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale.
Irma had been one of the most powerful hurricanes ever seen in the Atlantic, killing 28 people in the Caribbean and pummeling Cuba with 36-foot (11 meter) waves on Sunday. Its core was located about 35 miles (56 km) south of Naples by 2 p.m. local time (1800 GMT).
Some 6.5 million people, about a third of the state’s population, had been ordered to evacuate southern Florida.
Officials warned that Irma’s heavy storm surge — seawater driven on land by high winds — could bring floods of up to 15 feet (4.6 m) along the state’s western Gulf Coast. Small whitecapped waves could be seen in flooded streets between Miami office towers.
“There is a serious threat of significant storm surge flooding along the entire west coast of Florida,” Governor Rick Scott told a press conference. “This is a life-threatening situation.”
Tornadoes were also spotted through the region.
Irma is expected to cause billions of dollars in damage to the third-most-populous US state, a major tourism hub with an economy that generates about 5 percent of US gross domestic product.
About 1.8 million Florida homes and businesses had lost power, according to Florida Power & Light and other utilities.
The National Hurricane Center forecast that Irma’s center eye will move near or over the state’s west coast later on Sunday.
The storm killed 24 as it raged through the Caribbean. It has already claimed at least one life in Florida, a man found dead in his pickup truck, which had crashed into a tree in high winds.
Miami buildings sway, streets flooded
The storm winds downed a construction crane and shook tall buildings in Miami, which was about 100 miles (160 km) from Irma’s core.
Deme Lomas, who owns Miami restaurant Niu Kitchen, said he saw a crane torn apart by winds and dangling from the top of a building.
“We feel the building swaying all the time,” Lomas said in a phone interview from his 35th-floor apartment. “It’s like being on a ship.”
Waves poured over a Miami seawall, flooding streets around Brickell Avenue which runs a couple of blocks from the waterfront through the financial district and past consulates, leaving high rise apartment buildings standing like islands in the flood.
“There’s water everywhere,” said Chaim Lipskar, rabbi at the Rok Family Shul that is sheltering a few families through the storm. “It’s up and down Brickell and all over the side streets.”
South Florida’s large population of elderly residents posed a severe test for the emergency shelters.
One woman in Miami’s Little Haiti neighborhood delivered her own baby because emergency responders were not able to reach her, the city of Miami said on Twitter. The two are now at the hospital, it said.
Irma comes just days after Hurricane Harvey dumped record-setting rain in Texas, causing unprecedented flooding, killing at least 60 people and an estimated $180 billion in property damage. Almost three months remain in the Atlantic hurricane season, which runs through November.
US President Donald Trump spoke to the governors of Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina and Tennessee on Sunday and issued a disaster declaration for Puerto Rico, which was hit by the storm last week, the White House said.
CARTAGENA, Colombia: Pope Francis got a cut on his brow and blood on his white cape Sunday when he bumped into the window of his Popemobile while waving to admirers in Colombia.
Francis, 80, was standing up in the specially designed vehicle during a procession through the Caribbean city of Cartagena when the vehicle braked sharply.
Television pictures showed him colliding with the glass of the vehicle’s covered platform, and then being assisted by his bodyguard.
He was seen later with a bruise on his cheek and a small dressing on his brow, but still smiling.
“I got bashed,” he joked to reporters.
Vatican spokesman Greg Burke told journalists: “The pope is alright. Ice was put on it and he was treated. He will continue the schedule for his visit with no changes.”
Francis was in Cartagena on the last day of a four-city Colombian tour. He was due to fly back to Rome later Sunday.