Georgian police stormed the offices of opposition leader Nika Melia’s party using tear gas and arrested him on Tuesday morning, just days after the Prime Minister resigned over a disagreement over whether to stop it or not.
Melia, president of the United National Movement (UNM), was accused of inciting violence during street protests in June 2019. Live TV footage shows Melia being dragged out of her party headquarters.
Meanwhile, hundreds of riot police used tear gas against his supporters and leaders of the country’s opposition parties, who have camped in the building since Wednesday, showed live footage from Mtavari TV.
Several opposition supporters were also arrested.
Security forces gathered outside the UNM party office in Tblisi as they prepared to arrest Nika Melia
Melia accused of having “ organized mass violence ”
Melia was arrested in a case related to anti-government protests in 2019. He was charged with “organizing mass violence” during the protests and faces up to nine years in prison.
Melia, 41, dismissed the case as politically motivated.
Last week, a court in Tbilisi ordered Melia to be remanded in custody after refusing to pay increased bail.
Georgia’s political scene has been in turmoil since last year’s contested parliamentary elections
Arrest triggers warnings from allies
The news of the police action sparked outrage from the opposition and warnings from the Western allies of the former Soviet country.
“Shocked by the scenes at UNM headquarters this morning,” British Ambassador Mark Clayton wrote on Twitter. “Violence and chaos in Tbilisi is the last thing Georgia needs right now. I urge all parties to act with restraint, now and in the days to come.”
Matthew Bryza, a senior member of a US think tank Atlantic Council, told TBEN news agency that the arrest denoted Georgia’s “democratic retreat”.
Under the leadership of the ruling Georgian Dream party, it has reached the point where “opposition parties say they cannot take their seats in parliament because the democratic system in Georgia is broken.”
Case deepens political divide in Georgia
Georgian politics have been in turmoil since the parliamentary elections last October.
Opposition parties denounced the polls as rigged after the victory of the Georgian Dream party. Their members refused to take their seats in the new parliament and demanded a new ballot.
Prime Minister Giorgi Gakharia resigned on Thursday due to his intention to arrest Melia. Gakharia said his decision was prompted by a disagreement with his own team over the order to detain Melia.
Gakharia had said that Melia’s detention was unacceptable if it threatened to fuel political divisions.
sri, lc / msh (Reuters, TBEN)