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Nika Melia, Georgian opposition leader, is arrested at party HQ

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Police in Georgia have arrested the country’s main opposition leader, Nika Melia, in a violent raid on his party’s headquarters.

They used tear gas to disperse his supporters, some of whom had barricaded themselves inside with their leader.

Mr Melia was eventually dragged out of the building in the capital Tbilisi by riot police.

The case against him dates back to anti-government protests in 2019, but comes amid a wider political crisis.

Georgia has been rocked by protests since parliamentary elections in October, with the opposition accusing the ruling Georgian Dream party of rigging the poll and intimidating voters.

Last week, Prime Minister Giorgi Gakharia resigned over the court order to arrest Mr Melia, saying such a move could risk “political escalation” in the South Caucasus country.

His replacement, Irakli Garibashvili, who was confirmed by parliament on Monday, promised to go ahead with Mr Melia’s arrest, saying he would “not manage to hide from justice”.

What’s the case about?

Nika Melia, who leads the opposition United National Movement, is accused of inciting violence in street protests in June 2019, and a court last week ordered his arrest for refusing to pay an increased bail fee in the case.

He denies the charges, and says they are “part of ongoing repressions against the opposition”. He faces a nine-year sentence if convicted.

image copyrightReuters

Georgian law enforcement officers detain an opposition supporter after storming the United National Movement (UNM) opposition party office in Tbilisi, Georgia on 23 February 2021

image copyrightReuters

Footage from inside the party’s headquarters showed Mr Melia barricaded inside a room surrounded by supporters, as opposition activists clashed with hundreds of riot police outside.

According to local news reports, at least 20 people were also detained and later released.

The raid has drawn swift condemnation from the US and UK embassies in Georgia.

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Opposition parties in the country have called for mass demonstrations outside government headquarters on Tuesday over Mr Melia’s arrest.

The latest incident comes as opposition MPs continue to boycott parliament over October’s disputed election results.

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