Georgian opposition leader arrested, protesters set up camp

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Nika Melia, head of the United National Movement speaks to a journalist in Tbilisi, Georgia, Thursday, Feb. 18, 2021. Police in Georgia have stormed the headquarters of the country's main opposition party and arrested its leader. The arrest of Nika Melia, head of the United National Movement, aggravates the political tensions that have been rising since the October parliamentary election that the opposition is demanding be rerun. (AP Photo/Zurab Tsertsvadze)

TBILISI – Demonstrators set up tents outside Georgia's parliament building and blocked the capital’s main avenue Tuesday to protest the arrest of the leader of the country's main opposition party.

The demonstration came hours after police stormed the headquarters of the United National Movement and arrested its chairman, lawmaker Nika Melia.

Georgian media reported that about 20 other people were also arrested at the party's headquarters.

The political situation in Georgia has been tense amid allegations of voter fraud in the country's fall parliamentary election. The opposition is demanding a rerun of the vote.

Before the police raid, parliament members named a new prime minister to replace the one who opposed arresting Melia because of concern it would escalate the country’s political crisis.

Melia faces charges of inciting violence during protests that erupted in 2019 when a Russian lawmaker sat in the parliament speaker’s chair during a meeting of lawmakers from Orthodox Christian countries. He had been free on bail.

The new prime minister, Irakli Garibashvili, said the politician's arrest was justified.

“We are building a democratic state, and everyone in the country, no matter to their taste and political views, must obey the law,” he said.