Opposition parties called for large-scale protests after a major politician was arrested in Georgia in an early morning assault on party headquarters on Tuesday, deepening the swirling political crisis after being contested in last year’s parliamentary elections.
Hundreds of riot police used tear gas against supporters of Nika Melia, who had been camp at the United National Movement headquarters in Tbilisi, before the opposition leader was arrested and placed in pre-trail detention.
The raid caused swift criticism from the US and British embassies in Georgia and raised concerns about the country’s fragile democracy.
Many of his supporters were also detained in an overnight raid, and the opposition leader, the Lero Party, called for “a peaceful and unwavering struggle to protect Georgia’s democracy.”
“Liberation of political prisoners and parliamentary elections are the only possible ways out of the crisis,” Mamuka Khazaradze told journalists on behalf of all opposition leaders.
He urged supporters to gather outside government headquarters to protest Melia’s arrest.
“We are deeply concerned about the government’s decision to detain the leaders of major opposition parties,” the US embassy in Georgia said in a statement.
“Power and aggression are not the solution to resolve Georgia’s political differences. Today, Georgia has set back on the path to becoming a stronger democracy in the Euro-Atlantic countries.”
“I was shocked by the UNM headquarters scene this morning,” British ambassador Mark Clayton wrote on Twitter.
However, Georgia’s Interior Ministry defended the attack, saying “police used proportional force and special means.”
Georgia has been on the verge of a political crisis since the parliamentary elections in October. Opposition accused it of fraud after the ruling George Andreem party claimed a narrow victory.
On Thursday, Prime Minister Giorgi Gacaria resigned from George Andrew’s plan to arrest Melia.
Last week, a court in Tbilisi ordered Melia to be put in pretrial detention after refusing to pay an increase in bail prior to a hearing in a case related to a 2019 anti-government demonstration.
He was charged with “organizing mass violence” during protests and faces up to nine years in prison.
Proponents were camping at his party headquarters last week until the attack on Tuesday.
Melia, 41, rejected the case for political motives.
The detention order raised stakes in the crisis over the disputed elections.
Opposition lawmakers refused to occupy a seat in the new parliament with a boycott that weighs heavily on the ruling party’s political legitimacy.
They also demanded a new poll.
Georgia’s new prime minister, Irakli Garibashibiri, confirmed in parliament on Monday, said in a speech to lawmakers that his government would proceed with the arrest of Melia, politicians “cannot hide from justice.” Stated.
Garibashibiri is a loyal lieutenant of the powerful oligarch, Vizina Ivanishvili, who is widely regarded as the head of Georgia, despite having no official political role.
Analysts said Georgia’s political crisis had serious consequences for fledgling democracy and was unlikely to be resolved without greater diplomatic involvement from Tbilisi’s western allies.
Matthew Briza, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council’s US think tank, said Georgia’s “retreat of democracy” under Georgia’s dreams was “the opposition broke Georgia’s democracy.”
“Without the larger Western mediation, the situation could be very dangerous,” said a former diplomat who coordinated US Caucasus policy under former President Bush’s administration.
Georgian Dream, which has been in power since 2012, has been declining in popularity as it has been unable to cope with the economic stagnation and is perceived as a recession in its democratic efforts.
Critics have accused the country’s wealthiest man, Ivanishvili, of persecuting political opponents and creating a corrupt system in which private interests permeate politics.
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