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World

Georgia court to rule on detaining top opposition leader

  • Prosecutors in 2019 charged Melia with organising "mass violence" during anti-government protests that year.
17 Feb, 2021

TBILISI: A court in Georgia was due to decide Wednesday whether to place one of the country's top opposition leaders in pre-trial detention, in a case denounced by the opposition as a political witch hunt.

The move to arrest Nika Melia -- chairman of the country's main opposition force, the United National Movement (UNM) -- risks further fuelling the political crisis that has gripped Georgia following parliamentary elections in October.

His supporters have vowed to obstruct police if they move to arrest him.

Prosecutors in 2019 charged Melia with organising "mass violence" during anti-government protests that year.

They demanded his arrest last week after the 41-year-old opposition figure, who initially posted bail in 2019, refused to pay an increased bail fee.

Melia, who faces up to nine years behind bars if found guilty, has rejected the charges as politically motivated.

"The case against me is judicial nonsense -- paying bail twice is nonsense. It is part of ongoing repressions against the opposition," he told AFP.

All of the ex-Soviet country's opposition parties are boycotting parliament, refusing to assume their mandates after elections marred by irregularities.

Leaders of nearly all of the country's opposition parties gathered Wednesday at the UNM party headquarters in the capital Tbilisi ahead of the trial in the event that police move to arrest Melia.

"We will not surrender Melia. If police hit us, we will fight physically and hit them back," leader of the European Georgia party, Gigi Ugulava, told journalists.

On Tuesday, Georgia's parliament voted to strip Melia of immunity from prosecution that he is guaranteed as a lawmaker, paving the way for his pre-trial detention.

In a statement ahead of the trial, the Georgian branch of the Transparency International rights watchdog said the "selective prosecution against the chairperson of the largest opposition party will seriously harm democracy in the country."

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