News ID: 281022
Published: 1258 GMT February 23, 2021

Georgian police storm opposition party offices, detain its leader

Georgian police storm opposition party offices, detain its leader
IRAKLI GEDENIDZE/REUTERS

Georgian law enforcement officers are seen in front of the United National Movement (UNM) opposition party office after storming it, in Tbilisi, Georgia on February 23, 2021.

Police stormed the party offices of Georgian opposition leader Nika Melia and detained him early on Tuesday, deepening a political crisis that prompted the prime minister to resign last week.

Seventeen people were hurt in clashes at the party’s offices, the health ministry was quoted by the Interfax News Agency as saying. Melia’s supporters used furniture to barricade themselves inside, prompting police to spray gas before officers led Melia away, Reuters reported.

Melia, chairman of the United National Movement (UNM) opposition party, has been accused of inciting violence at street protests in June 2019, a charge he dismisses as politically motivated.

The Interior Ministry said it had no option but to use coercive measures as activists had ignored numerous warnings not to obstruct their work and had declined to leave the building.

It also said in a separate statement that its computer infrastructure had been hit by a cyber-attack from abroad.

The US Embassy said it was deeply concerned by his detention and expressed regret that its call for restraint and dialogue had been “ignored”.

“Today, Georgia has moved backward on its path toward becoming a stronger democracy in the Euro-Atlantic family of nations,” it said in a statement.

The European Union’s ambassador to Georgia urged efforts to find common ground between the two sides.

“The logic of escalation is getting the upper hand. The political crisis is deepening,” the diplomat, Carl Hartzell, wrote on Twitter.

Last week, a court ordered Melia to be detained for allegedly failing to post bail. The Interior Ministry at the time announced it was postponing carrying out the order to detain him following Prime Minister Giorgi Gakharia’s resignation.

Gakharia abruptly stepped down on Feb. 18, saying his decision had been 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 in Georgia.

Late on Monday, Georgia’s Parliament voted to form a new government led by Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili, who served as prime minister in 2013-15.

 

 

 

 

   
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