Georgian police arrest top opposition leader, use tear gas in party HQ raid

Georgian police gather outside the United National Movement (UNM) party's headquarters in Tbilisi, Georgia, 23 February 2021. Police stormed the UNM headquarters on 23 February and arrested Georgian top opposition leader Nika Melia. [Zurab Kurtsikidze/EPA/EFE]

Georgian police on Tuesday (23 February) 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.

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 Mtavari TV live pictures showed.

Scores of opposition supporters were detained.

“Shocked by the scenes at UNM headquarters this morning,” British ambassador Mark Clayton wrote on Twitter. “Violence and chaos in Tbilisi are the last thing Georgia needs right now. I urge all sides to act with restraint, now and in the coming days.”

Georgia has been in the grip of a political crisis since last October’s parliamentary elections, which opposition parties have denounced as rigged.

On Thursday, Prime Minister Giorgi Gakharia resigned over ruling party Georgian Dream’s plans to arrest Melia.

Georgia in turmoil as PM resigns over arrest of opposition leader

The political crisis in Georgia is deepening as Prime Minister Georgi Gakharia stepped down on Thursday (18 February), citing his disagreement with the team on the court decision to arrest the main opposition party leader.

News of the plan sparked outrage among the opposition and warnings from the ex-Soviet country’s Western allies.

In the wake of Gakharia’s resignation, the opposition called for snap parliamentary polls.

Last week, the United States and the European Union called on Georgia’s government to resolve the crisis peacefully and to ensure its judicial system stays free of political bias.

Western allies concerned about deepening political turmoil in Georgia

Prominent European politicians, countries and the European Commission voiced serious concern about the deepening political crisis in Georgia after Prime minister Georgi Gakharia stepped down on Thursday (18 February), exposing divisions in the ruling party over a court decision to arrest the main opposition leader.

Melia has dismissed the charges laid against him of “organising mass violence” during anti-government protests in 2019 as politically motivated.

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