Georgian opposition leader arrested, deepening the political crisis in the South Caucasus country

The unrest is the latest upheaval along Russia’s vast borders: protests proceed in Belarus over an August presidential election end result the opposition has denounced as false and Kyrgyzstan just lately had its third revolution in the previous 15 years.

Georgia, a country of about 3.7 million individuals situated on the Black Sea, was thought-about extra democratic than the different two, with ambitions to affix NATO, however in current years, U.S. lawmakers have expressed considerations in letters to Georgia’s management that some actions by the ruling Georgian Dream indicated a “backsliding.”

The scenario got here to a head in October, when the Georgian Dream coalition once more swept to victory, however opposition teams declare that the voting was rigged and refused to take their seats in Parliament. Critics have accused Georgian Dream of consolidating near-total management over all branches and ranges of presidency.

The United National Movement social gathering, based by Mikheil Saakashvili, Georgia’s former president now residing in exile in Ukraine, received simply 27 p.c of the vote. Melia was named the social gathering’s new leader in late December.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe concluded that the October vote in Georgia was “competitive and, overall, fundamental freedoms were respected,” nevertheless it additionally cited “pervasive allegations of pressure on voters and blurring of the line between the ruling party and the state.”

Then final week, Prime Minister Giorgi Gakharia out of the blue resigned from his publish, citing the plans to arrest Melia as his motive for stepping down.

The 41-year-old Melia has mentioned the costs towards him of “organizing mass violence” throughout anti-government protests in 2019 are politically motivated. He faces 9 years in jail if convicted.

“I’d like to believe that this step will help de-escalate the polarization on the political stage of our nation,” Gakharia mentioned of his resignation in a information convention Thursday, including that the choice to position Melia in pretrial detention posed “a risk to the health and lives of our citizens.”

In the wake of Gakharia’s shock resignation, the Interior Ministry mentioned Melia’s arrest was “temporarily postponed.” But lower than 24 hours after Irakli Garibashvili was authorized as the new prime minister by the parliament on Monday, Melia was seen being led out of his social gathering workplaces and right into a black unmarked SUV by Georgian police.

In an announcement, the U.S. Embassy in Georgia mentioned it’s “dismayed by the polarizing rhetoric from Georgia’s leadership at a time of crisis,” including that “today, Georgia has moved backward on its path toward becoming a stronger democracy in the Euro-Atlantic family of nations.”

“Shocked by the scenes at UNM headquarters this morning,” British ambassador to Georgia Mark Clayton wrote on Twitter. “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.”

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