Georgian police arrest opposition leader after storming party office

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Canan Kevser
23 February 2021, 14:03
Canan Kevser
23 February 2021, 14:03

Georgian police stormed the party offices of opposition leader Nika Melia and detained him early on February 23, days after the prime minister resigned after a disagreement over whether to take the prominent politician into custody.

Melia, chairman of the United National Movement (ENM) opposition party, had been accused of inciting violence at street protests in June 2019, a charge he has dismissed as politically motivated.

A court in the capital Tbilisi ordered last week that he be taken into custody for allegedly failing to post bail. The Interior Ministry at the time announced it was postponing carrying out the order to detain Melia following the resignation of Prime Minister Giorgi Gakharia.

Live television footage showed Melia, the leader of the ENM, being dragged from the party headquarters to be placed in pre-trial detention.

Hundreds of riot police used tear gas against Melia's supporters and the leaders of all of the country's opposition parties, who have been camped out in the building since February 17, the Mtavari TV live pictures showed.

Dozens of opposition supporters were detained.

Previous developments

The parliament in ex-Soviet nation Georgia has voted Monday evening to appoint a new prime minister and Cabinet after Giorgi Gakharia resigned last week over a court ruling to arrest the top opposition politician.

The lawmakers voted 89-2 for Irakli Garibashvili and his Cabinet. Garibashvili, 38, served as the country’s prime minister between 2013 and 2015 and was the defence minister in Gakharia’s Cabinet. His candidacy was put forward by the ruling Georgian Dream party.

Gakharia resigned Thursday over the decision to arrest Nika Melia, chairman of the United National Movement opposition party. A Tbilisi court last week ruled to place Melia, who is accused of organizing “mass violence” during anti-government protests in 2019, in pre-trial detention.

Gakharia said arresting the opposition leader could lead to further escalation of political crisis and threaten the well-being of the country’s citizens. Following Gakharia’s resignation, Georgia’s Interior Ministry issued a statement saying it had temporarily postponed detaining Melia.

Background

ENM was founded in October 2001 by Mikheil Saakashvili. It was a ruling party during the latter's presidential term before losing a parliamentary election in 2012 and going into opposition against the background of their leader fleeing the country.

Since then, the Georgian Dream has been in power, while ENM is the main opposition force.