Political crisis deepens in Georgia after opposition leader’s arrest

Photo: AP Nika Melia speaks during a news conference in Tbilisi, October, 2020.

Georgian police on Tuesday arrested a top opposition leader and used tear gas in a violent raid on his party headquarters, further deepening a political crisis sparked by last year's disputed parliamentary elections, AFP reported from Tbilisi.

Live television footage showed Nika Melia, the leader of the United National Movement, the country's main opposition party, being dragged from his party headquarters to be placed in pre-trial detention.

Meanwhile hundreds of riot police used tear gas against his supporters and the leaders of all of the country's opposition parties, who have been camped out in the building since Wednesday, the live pictures on Mtavari TV showed.

Scores of opposition supporters were detained. One of the UNM leaders, Giorgi Pataraia, told AFP that police "stole computer servers" from UNM headquarters.

Georgia's interior ministry said in a statement that "police used proportional force and special means" in the police operation.

"Shocked by the scenes at UNM headquarters this morning," British ambassador Mark Clayton wrote on Twitter. He urged all sides to act with restraint.

The United States and the European Union have expressed concerns over plans to arrest Melia, calling on Georgia's government to resolve the crisis peacefully and ensure its judicial system stays free of political bias.

Georgia has been in the grip of a political crisis since last October's parliamentary elections, which opposition parties have denounced as rigged after the ruling Georgian Dream party claimed victory.

On Thursday, PM Giorgi Gakharia resigned over Georgian Dream's plans to arrest Melia. Last week, a court in Tbilisi ordered Melia placed in pre-trial detention after he refused to pay an increased bail fee ahead of hearings in a case related to anti-government demonstrations in 2019.

He has been charged with "organising mass violence" during the protests and faces up to nine years in prison. Melia, 41, rejects the case as politically motivated.

Opposition members have refused to take up their seats in the new parliament, in a boycott that weighs heavily on the ruling party's political legitimacy. They have demanded a new poll.

Georgia's new PM Irakli Garibashvili, who was confirmed by parliament on Monday, said in an address to lawmakers his government would proceed with Melia's arrest, saying the politician "will not manage to hide from justice". Garibashvili is a loyal lieutenant of the powerful oligarch Bidzina Ivanishvili who is widely seen as the man in charge in Georgia, despite having no official political role.

Similar articles