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Thousands Of Georgians Take To Streets To Protest Opposition Leader's Arrest, Call For Snap Elections

Protesters march in support of Georgian opposition leader Nika Melia in Tbilisi on February 26.
Protesters march in support of Georgian opposition leader Nika Melia in Tbilisi on February 26.

TBILISI -- Thousands of Georgians took to the streets in the nation’s capital on February 26 to protest a police raid on the headquarters of an opposition party and the arrest of its leader.

Participants, waving Georgian and NATO flags and carrying signs, rallied outside the Georgian parliament building in Tbilisi to call for new snap parliamentary elections and the release of political prisoners.

“We will not leave until our demands are met,” a protester who traveled 300 kilometers from the town of Zugdidi to participate in the rally told RFE/RL.

The protest was sparked by the February 23 police raid at the United National Movement’s (ENM) headquarters in Tbilisi. Nika Melia, the leader of the movement, as well as several activists were arrested.

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Thousands Protest Georgian Opposition Leader's Arrest, Demand Snap Elections
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More than a dozen people were injured during the raid as police sprayed what appeared to be chemical irritants into the offices where party leaders -- as well as representatives of other opposition parties -- had been shielding Melia for several days.

Police accuse Melia of inciting violence at anti-government protests during the summer of 2019. Melia has dismissed the charges against him as politically motivated.

In a statement later that day, a group of bipartisan U.S. lawmakers called the raid “profoundly disturbing” and demanded Georgian authorities release Melia and the activists.

Participants at the February 26 rally held signs that read “Free Nika Melia” and “Freedom for Prisoners.”

Khatia Dekanoidze, one of the leaders of the ENM, addressed the crowd and read a letter from Melia, who called upon his supporters to continue fighting.

Dekanoidze called for another rally outside the parliament building on March 2 and one in front of the Chancellery, where the government presides, on March 5.

There were no reports of arrests or violence at the protest.

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