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Tensions High As Georgian Opposition Leader Goes On Trial

Protesters rally in support of Georgian opposition leader Nika Melia in front of Tbilisi's city court on April 8.

TBILISI – The jailed leader of Georgia's main opposition force has gone on trial in a case that has deepened a protracted postelection political crisis in the South Caucasus country.

Nika Melia's trial opened in Tbilisi on April 8 at a hearing held behind closed doors due to pandemic measures, with hundreds of his supporters gathered outside the courtroom.

A judge granted the defense team's request to lift a ban on the chairman of the United National Movement (ENM) attending the trial, and set the next hearing for April 13.

Melia is accused of organizing "mass violence" during 2019 anti-government protests, and he could face nine years behind bars if convicted.

The 41-year-old politician rejects the charge as politically motivated, which the ruling Georgian Dream party denies.

Georgia has been in the grip of a crisis since parliamentary elections in October, with opposition parties refusing to enter the new parliament to protest what they call the rigging of the vote.

The crisis deepened in February, when a court ordered Melia sent to pretrial detention after he refused to pay an increased bail fee.

Melia's arrest, along with several opposition activists, has sparked mass anti-government protests in Tbilisi demanding their release and snap parliamentary elections.

Two rounds of EU-mediated talks in March between the government and the opposition aimed at de-escalating tensions have failed to produce any breakthrough.

With reporting by AFP