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Georgian Court Upholds Bail For Opposition Lawmaker As Anti-Government Protests Continue

Georgian opposition leader Nika Melia speaks to reporters in Tbilisi on July 2.

TBILISI -- A Georgian appeals court has upheld bail for Nika Melia, an opposition lawmaker who is facing charges of inciting a riot during an anti-government protest in the capital last month.

The Tbilisi Court of Appeals issued the ruling on July 2 after demonstrators gathered outside the parliament building for a 12th night, demanding the resignation of the interior minister.

Prosecutors had appealed against an earlier court decision to release Melia on bail pending trial, while his lawyers wanted all charges against their client to be dropped.

Melia, an opposition lawmaker and a leader of former President Mikheil Saakashvili's United National Movement party, has called the charges against him absurd.

Parliament voted to strip Melia of his immunity on June 26, though the vote was boycotted by opposition parties, which denounced the lawmaker's prosecution as "political persecution."

More than 240 people were injured when police fired rubber bullets and water cannons to turn back crowds trying to enter the parliament building on June 20.

The opposition accuses Interior Minister Giorgi Gakharia of using excessive force to break up the demonstration.

President Salome Zurabishvili has said the police response was being investigated and "those who should bear the penalty should be punished."

The wave of protests was sparked by the visit of an official Russian delegation to parliament, including a Russian lawmaker who sat in the Georgian parliament speaker's seat while addressing a group of officials from predominantly Orthodox Christian countries.

A large majority of Georgians are openly hostile to Russia, 11 years after a five-day war that resulted in Russian forces occupying two breakaway regions.