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Giorgi Rurua in a Tbilisi courtroom

TBILISI -- The Tbilisi City Court has remanded opposition figure Giorgi Rurua in pretrial detention on an illegal weapon possession charge that threatens to disrupt a foreign-brokered deal with the ruling party on election reforms.

The court's May 18 ruling was met with harsh criticism by opposition politicians, who along with Rurua have called the charge fake and believe it is politically motivated.

Gigi Ugulava, the leader of the opposition European Georgia-Movement for Freedom party, who himself was released from prison last week after President Salome Zurabishvili pardoned him and another opposition politician in a move to salvage the deal on election reforms, said that "without Rurua's release, the deal cannot be considered implemented.”

Salome Samadashvili of the United National Movement opposition party said that “while Rurua remains in custody, the opposition will not support the agreement” with the ruling Georgian Dream party.

Rurua, the founder and a shareholder of the opposition-aligned Mtavari Arkhi TV, was arrested on November 18 and charged with the illegal purchase, possession, and carrying of a firearm. Opposition parties insist that Rurua’s arrest was politically motivated.

On May 15, after Zurabishvili pardoned Ugulava, who once served as Tbilisi mayor, and former Defense Minister Irakli Okruashvili, who leads the opposition Victorious Georgia party, many thought that Rurua also would be released, which would meet the demands by the opposition, who had threatened to abandon the agreement if "political prisoners" were not freed.

Georgia’s opposition parties claim the release was a condition of the March 8 deal, which the governing Georgian Dream party denies.

Opposition parties insisted that Georgia's electoral system unfairly favored Georgian Dream, and demanded it be changed to a proportional system ahead of parliamentary elections set for October.

Under the March 8 memorandum of understanding facilitated by U.S. and European Union officials, parliament should consist of 120 members elected through a proportional voting system, while 30 members would be elected through a majority system.

The electoral threshold for proportional elections will be set at 1 percent and a capping mechanism will mean that no single party receiving less than 40 percent of the votes cast will be allowed to hold a majority of seats in parliament.

Under the current electoral system, 73 of 150 parliamentary seats are claimed by candidates who finish first in district races. The remaining seats are distributed proportionally to the national share of the vote that a party wins.

This led to Georgian Dream, led by billionaire founder Bidzina Ivanishvili, winning 76 percent of the legislature's seats even though it won just less than half of the popular vote.

The protesters halted traffic on May 17 along the Bokhtar-Dushanbe road.

DUSHANBE -- Dozens of Tajiks affected by some of the worst flooding and mudslides in years have blocked a key road in a rare instance of public protest in the authoritarian Central Asian nation.

The protesters halted traffic on May 17 along the Bokhtar-Dushanbe road, which connects the nation’s capital with the center of Khatlon Province. The road continues on to a border bridge with Afghanistan.

Residents of the Khuroson district have been severely impacted by devastating floods and mudslides in recent days with dozens of homes in three villages partially or fully destroyed.

One person has died and several have been injured from the natural disaster.

Meanwhile, residents have been forced to spend nights outside without emergency aid, they said.

The head of the local police is negotiating with the protesters.

Large demonstrations have been rare in Tajikistan -- which has been run for more than a quarter century by authoritarian leader President Emomali Rahmon -- since the end of its civil war in 1997.

The protest comes amid complaints over the government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Tajik authorities, who for weeks denied that the coronavirus had reached the nation, claim that only 204 people have been diagnosed with COVID-19 and only 36 have died as of May 16 .

However, civil activists claim that the number of deaths alone already exceeds 200

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"Watchdog" is a blog with a singular mission -- to monitor the latest developments concerning human rights, civil society, and press freedom. We'll pay particular attention to reports concerning countries in RFE/RL's broadcast region.

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