Opposition leader arrested in Georgia

Nicanor Melia, leader of the main opposition party in Georgia, the United National Movement (MNU), founded and previously led by former President Mikhail Saakashvili, was detained early this morning by the Police in Tbilisi, the capital of the country. An anti-riot unit was sent for his arrest, which has had to use tear gas and also detain those who tried to obstruct the operation, according to local television reports.

Melia, 41, president of the MNU, had been entrenched in the headquarters of his training since last February 17 and is accused of organizing the disorders that broke out in Tbilisi in June 2019, during the visit of a Russian delegation. Those riots caused more than 200 injuries and a further deterioration in relations with Moscow. On the 16th, at the request of the Attorney General’s Office, he was stripped of his parliamentary immunity and his capture was ordered, measures that pushed him to offer resistance, further complicating his situation.

The first consequence of this new outbreak of political confrontation in Georgia was the resignation of Prime Minister Gueorgui Gajaria last Thursday, in disagreement with the judicial persecution against Melia and the decision to deprive him of parliamentary immunity. In his party, called the Georgian Dream and which holds the majority in the House, there are quite a few supporters that the opposition leader be prosecuted for encouraging riots, a crime that can cost him nine years in prison. Such dissensions led Gajaria to conclude that many of his own have stopped supporting him.

“Unfortunately, I could not reach an understanding on this matter with my team and I have decided to resign,” he declared then. The resigned head of the Government said he agreed that Melia acted without respecting the law, but warned that his arrest will destabilize the situation in the country at a critical time due to the pandemic and the economic crisis.

In his words, “polarization and confrontation pose the greatest risks to the future of our country and its economic development.” Indeed, the opposition is already preparing protest actions and continues to consider that the results of the legislative elections last October were manipulated.

In replacement of Gajaria, the Georgian Parliament on Monday appointed Irakli Garibashvili, the former defense minister, as the new prime minister. The new chief executive was pleased that Melia is already in prison and thanked the Police. In his view, “this shows that Georgia is a rule of law”. However, the US Embassy in Tbilisi has expressed “concern” about the turn that events in Georgia are taking. From Brussels there has also been a call to avoid polarization and exacerbated political confrontation.

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