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Police In Tbilisi Brawl With Opposition Activists, Detain 20 Protesters

Clashes near the Georgian parliament on February 19
Clashes near the Georgian parliament on February 19

TBILISI -- Police in downtown Tbilisi have brawled with dozens of opposition and civil rights activists who unsuccessfully tried to set up a tent in front of the parliament building.

The Interior Ministry told RFE/RL on February 19 that 20 people were detained for allegedly not complying with a lawful order or demand of a law-enforcement officer. The tent was confiscated.

The activists have been protesting near the parliament for several months against what they call the rigging of October 31, 2020 parliamentary elections and an ongoing political crisis in the country.

The political crisis in Georgia that followed the elections deepened after a court ruled on February 17 to send Nika Melia, chairman of the United National Movement opposition party, to pretrial detention in a case denounced by the opposition as a political witch hunt.

Melia is accused of organizing "mass violence" during 2019 anti-government protests, a charge he rejects as politically motivated. The ruling Georgian Dream party denies that.

The 41-year-old politician faces up to nine years behind bars if convicted.

On February 18, Georgian Prime Minister Giorgi Gakharia resigned amid the crisis, and Irakli Gharibashvili was named new prime minister.

Gharibashvili’s appointment needs to be confirmed by parliament, which is being boycotted by the opposition.

Following Gakharia’s resignation, Melia called for early elections, while the Interior Ministry said they had temporarily postponed detaining the opposition leader.

The court ruling on Melia's pretrial detention followed his refusal to pay an increased bail fee of 40,000 laris ($12,000). The opposition leader initially posted bail in 2019 but the amount was increased after he publicly removed his electronic monitoring bracelet during a postelection rally in November 2020.

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