Police have arrested the leader of the opposition United National Movement party, Nika Melia, in a morning raid on the party’s offices in Tbilisi.
Police used a fire engine to climb in through an upper window of the building at around 8:00 in the morning. Several supporters of Melia claimed police used a chemical irritant before detaining the opposition leader.
Minutes after Melia’s arrest, the Interior Ministry put out a statement saying they had warned people not to interfere with the detention and gave them reasonable time to follow the instruction.
Tbilisi City Court ordered Melia’s arrest on 17 February for violating his bail conditions, leading to widespread condemnation from opposition groups and concern from Georgia’s Western allies. Disagreements over whether to carry out the arrest led to the resignation of Prime Minister Giorgi Gakharia and the appointment of hardline anti-UNM figure Irakli Gharibashvili in his place.
[Read more: Gharibashvili focuses on 'terrorist opposition' in combative confirmation speech]
Supporters had earlier vowed to prevent Melia’s arrest, however, officers moved to remove them and some opposition figures from the office by force.
Some supporters met officers with hands held high and chanting Georgia’s national anthem. The UNM leadership had instructed them at night not to attack police if they entered the building or risk being labelled ‘provocateurs of violence’ sent by the authorities.
Speaking to journalists inside the UNM offices as police scoured the building, Melia remained defiant.
‘As always, I am feeling strong and I am sure in the victory of our country’, Melia said.
US Congressman and a co-chair of the House Georgia Caucus Adam Kinzinger called the raid 'a very concerning move' and warned that Melia’s detention could jeopardise the bipartisan Georgia Support Act that he and two other Congressmen reintroduced in Congress in February.
Failure to pay bail
Melia’s arrest is another escalation of a continuing political crisis in Georgia. All but six of the country’s opposition MPs have boycotted parliament since 31 October’s disputed parliamentary elections.
The Prosecutor’s Office appealed for Melia’s arrest after he failed to pay bail pending his trial for ‘leading and participating in group violence’ over the June 2019 violence outside parliament.
Tbilisi City Court had given him until 5 December to pay ₾40,000 ($12,000) bail. This was increased from ₾30,000 ($9,100) after he removed his monitoring bracelet and defied other restrictions.
Melia, who was appointed UNM leader in December, wore the device for 16 months after he was indicted.
Georgia’s Western allies have repeatedly called for restraint since the court ordered Melia’s arrest.
[Read on OC Media: Opinion | Georgian democracy on life support]