Georgian police yesterday 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 (UNM), the country’s main opposition party, being dragged from 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 last week, the live pictures on Mtavari TV showed. Scores of opposition supporters were detained.
One of the UNM leaders, Giorgi Pataraia, said that police “stole computer servers” from party headquarters.
The Georgian Ministry of the Interior 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 to Georgia 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,” he wrote.
Georgia has been in the grip of a political crisis since the October parliamentary elections, which opposition parties have denounced as rigged after the ruling Georgian Dream party claimed victory.
On Thursday, Giorgi Gakharia resigned as prime minister over Georgian Dream’s plans to arrest Melia.
News of the plan sparked outrage among the opposition and warnings from Georgia’s Western allies.
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 “organizing 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. They have demanded a new poll.
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