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Georgians Protest For Sixth Night As Opposition Leader Faces Arrest

Protesters waive the Georgian flag near the parliament building in Tbilisi early on June 26.
Protesters waive the Georgian flag near the parliament building in Tbilisi early on June 26.

TBILISI -- Thousands of protesters have rallied in the Georgian capital, Tbilisi, for the sixth consecutive day, demanding the resignation of the interior minister.

The protesters were also angered by the announcement that an opposition lawmaker is facing prosecution over the anti-government protests.

Former President of Georgia Giorgi Margvelashvili joined the crowd gathered in front of the parliament building on the evening of June 25, and expressed his support for the protesters.

"The truth and strength are here…a true wish for a bright future of Georgia is here,” Margvelashvili said.

Former Georgian President Margvelashvili Joins Protests Outside Parliament
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Several demonstrators announced that they had started a hunger strike. One of them was taken to hospital due to low blood sugar, the Health Ministry told RFE/RL.

The protesters are demanding, among other things, the dismissal of Interior Minister Giorgi Gakharia, whom they accuse of using excessive force to break up a demonstration five days earlier.

Demonstrators initially gathered outside parliament on June 20, when they attempted to storm the parliament building. Violent clashes between protesters and police resulted in hundreds of injuries and arrests.

The protesters were angered at a Russian lawmaker who had sat in the Georgian parliamentary speaker's seat while addressing a council of deputies from predominantly Orthodox Christian countries.

The move sparked the ire of the public, opposition parties, the president, and members of the ruling Georgian Dream coalition in a country where ties with Moscow remain strained after a five-day war in 2008.

Earlier on June 25, prosecutors said they summoned Nika Melia, an opposition lawmaker and a leader of former President Mikheil Saakashvili's United National Movement party, the next day to be formally charged with organizing violent actions by protesters.

The Prosecutor-General’s Office said it had appealed to the parliament with a proposal to consider stripping Melia of parliamentary immunity and agreeing to his detention.

Melia rejected the charge against him as "absurd,’ while opposition parties issued a joint statement denouncing the move as "political persecution."

According to the Prosecutor-General's Office, 121 people were detained on charges of confronting police and obstructing public order on the night of June 20-21. Some of them have already served short jail sentences, while 54 remain in custody.

Meanwhile, the parliament elected a Georgian Dream party candidate as the chamber’s new speaker following the resignation of his predecessor, Irakli Kobakhidze, amid calls for his ouster.

Archil Talakvadze was elected unanimously as opposition lawmakers left the session in protest after the ruling party refused to consider the interior minister's sacking.

The Georgian Dream party has so far accepted one of the protesters’ demands, agreeing to hold the 2020 parliamentary elections under a proportional system.

With reporting by AFP, AP, and Reuters

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