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Police arrest Georgian opposition chief after storming celebration HQ

Georgian police have stormed the nation’s opposition celebration headquarters and arrested their chief, escalating a political disaster within the former Soviet nation that authorities critics say dangers a descent into authoritarianism.

In a dramatic morning raid, riot police entered the headquarters of the United Nationwide Motion (UNM), utilizing teargas and batons as they arrested its chief, Nika Melia, on legal fees and detained a minimum of a dozen others.

Footage broadcast on Georgian tv confirmed Melia being dragged from the constructing. He’s charged with inciting violence at 2019 anti-government demonstrations when protesters stormed parliament and faces 9 years in jail. His supporters have stated that the costs are politically motivated.

The disaster pits supporters of the UNM, the opposition celebration based by the previous president Mikheil Saakashvili, towards the dominant Georgian Dream, the ruling celebration based by the billionaire and former prime minister Bidzina Ivanishvili.

The raid deepened a disaster in Georgia that started after disputed parliamentary election outcomes final yr, which nominally led to a powerful victory for Georgian Dream. UNM has boycotted the brand new parliament.

The choice to arrest Melia prompted misgivings amongst authorities supporters. Giorgi Gakharia, a member of Georgian Dream, resigned as prime minister final week over a courtroom choice to arrest Melia, saying it may result in protests and hurt the wellbeing of the nation’s residents.

In his place, Georgian Dream nominated Irakli Garibashvili, a former defence minister and ally of Ivanishvili, who rapidly ordered the arrest of Melia at his celebration headquarters. After the raid, Garibashvili referred to as Melia “an ordinary criminal” and requested: “When did the political party become a safe haven for such criminals?”

Folks attend a rally in assist of the jailed opposition chief Nika Melia in entrance of Georgia’s authorities constructing in Tbilisi. {Photograph}: Zurab Kurtsikidze/EPA

The escalation has compelled western international locations to intervene – a minimum of verbally – calling on each the opposition and the federal government to train restraint and keep away from risking a political standoff that would descend into bloodshed.

Georgia, which fought a short war with Russia in 2008, is a vital ally within the Caucasus area to the USA and the EU. The nation has sought to affix the Nato army alliance and has acquired billions of {dollars} of assist for its army, democratic establishments and civil society.

“Shocked by the scenes at UNM headquarters this morning,” Mark Clayton, the UK ambassador to Tbilisi, wrote in a tweet. “Violence and chaos in Tbilisi are the last thing Georgia needs right now. I urge all sides to act with restraint, now and in the coming days.”

The US embassy had beforehand issued a “call on the authorities and the opposition to exercise maximum restraint in the wake of tonight’s ruling. Violence serves no one except those who want to undermine Georgia’s stability. This must be resolved peacefully.”

Georgian police officers defended Tuesday’s raid, saying they used “proportional force” towards the opposition members.

A UNM chief instructed Agence France-Presse that police had additionally “stolen computer servers” from the celebration’s headquarters.

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