Georgian police have already reportedly arrested Nick Melia, the leader of the opposition United National Movement (ENM), today.
Hundreds of police officers used tear gas against Melia’s supporters and leaders of all opposition parties who had set up camp at the party’s headquarters since last Wednesday. Media reports that many opposition supporters were detained.
The arrest of Melia and the repression of her supporters have been condemned by the West, with diplomats expressing concern about the fragile democracy in Georgia.
The leader of the Georgian opposition party “Lelo” has called for a “peaceful, strong struggle to defend Georgia’s democracy.”
“The release of political prisoners and the early parliamentary elections are the only possible way out of the crisis,” Mamuka Hazardadze told reporters on behalf of all opposition leaders.
Several thousand demonstrators later gathered at the parliament building in Tbilisi to protest Melia’s arrest and demand early elections.
The US embassy in Georgia said it was “deeply concerned about the government’s decision to detain the leader of a major opposition political party.”
“Force and aggression are not a tool for resolving Georgia’s political differences,” the US embassy said.
“The logic of the escalation is to gain the upper hand. The political crisis is deepening,” said Karl Hartt, the European Union’s (EU) envoy to Georgia.
The British Ambassador Mark Clayton admitted on Twitter that he was shocked by what happened at the ENM headquarters this morning.
French Ambassador Diego Collas told the AFP news agency that Paris was following the Melia case closely, and said that Georgian leaders should accept dialogue with political representatives.
But Irakli Kobahidze, chairman of the ruling Georgian Dream party, has defended police action.
He argued that the polarization was caused by criminals in politics, not by the imprisonment of so-called politicians.
Georgia has been in a political crisis since the parliamentary elections last October.
Georgia’s dream won the election, but opposition claims fraud in the election process.
Opposition officials have declined their seats in parliament and called for new elections.
Georgian Prime Minister Giorgi Gahari has already reportedly resigned last Thursday over the ruling party’s intention to detain Melia.
Melia has been accused of organizing mass violence during protests against the government in 2019. If convicted, he could face up to nine years in prison. Last Wednesday, the court decided to remand Melis in pre-trial detention.
Melija, 41, has denied the charges against him as politically motivated.
Former Georgian Defense Minister Irakli Garibashvili, who became the new prime minister on Monday, told lawmakers that the government would not refuse to detain Melia and warned that Melia would not escape trial.
Garibashvili is a close ally of billionaire Bidzin Ivanishvili, who founded the “Georgia Dream”. Although Ivanishvili has announced his departure from politics, he is still considered the most influential person in Georgian politics.
The “Georgian dream”, which has been in power in Georgia since 2012, has lost its popularity because it has failed to break the country’s economic stagnation and strengthen democracy.
Critics accuse Ivanishvili of persecuting political opponents and creating a corrupt system.
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