General

Thousands rally in Georgia after opposition chief’s arrest

Thousands of anti-government protesters

rallied in the Georgian capital Friday to demand early elections after the

arrest of a top opposition leader.

Protesters marched through the city’s main street, led by the leaders of

all of Georgia’s opposition parties, waving Georgian, EU and US flags, before

staging a rally outside parliament building.

Georgia plunged deeper into political crisis following this week’s arrest

of Nika Melia — the leader of the main opposition United National Movement

(UNM) and a violent police raid on his party headquarters.

“I am in prison, but I am free,” Melia wrote in an address to demonstrators

read out at the rally.

“We are fighting for freedom and we will prevail in this struggle.”

Ex-Soviet Georgia has faced political turmoil since parliamentary

elections in October that the opposition decried as falsified in favour of

the ruling Georgian Dream party, which claimed a narrow victory.

Melia, a 41-year-old who has united Georgia’s traditionally divided

opposition forces, has denounced as politically motivated his prosecution on

charges of “organising mass violence” during anti-government protests in

2019.

A court in Tbilisi last week ordered Melia to be placed in pre-trial

detention after he refused to pay an increased bail fee in the case.

Prime Minister Giorgi Gakharia resigned over plans to arrest Melia, warning

it would escalate tensions, but police moved in anyway and detained him on

Tuesday.

Friday’s rally was the latest in a series of mass protests the opposition

has staged since October, to denounce what it says is political repression

and to demand fresh polls.

More protests have been announced for the coming days.

“The protest movement will continue until the ruling party liberates all

political prisoners and calls snap elections,” a leader of the opposition

Lelo party, Badri Japaridze, told reporters at Friday’s rally.

The United States led a chorus of international condemnation against

Melia’s arrest, saying the move was a setback for pro-Western Georgia “on its

path toward becoming a stronger democracy in the Euro-Atlantic family of

nations”.

Source: Bangladesh Sangbad Sangstha (BSS)