Georgia raids UNM offices and arrests its leader, prompting condemnation from some Western diplomats.
Hundreds of supporters of Georgia’s jailed opposition leader have rallied outside the prison with the political crisis in the country showing few signs of abating.
Georgia has been in the grip of a crisis since parliamentary elections in October last year, which opposition parties denounced as rigged after the governing party, Georgian Dream, claimed a narrow victory.
This week’s arrest of Nika Melia – leader of Georgia’s main opposition party the United National Movement (UNM) – further exacerbated the political crisis.
On Wednesday, a motorcade with hundreds of Melia’s supporters arrived in the southeastern town of Rustavi to stage a rally outside the prison.
“We are here to express solidarity with Nika,” Zaal Udumashvili, a UNM leader, told journalists.
Gigi Ugulava of the European Georgia opposition party called Melia a “political prisoner”.
“Protests will continue until all political prisoners are liberated and snap polls are called,” said Ugulava.
Opposition parties have said the parliamentary elections were fraudulent and have refused to enter new parliament and demanded fresh polls.
The standoff took on a dangerous new dimension on Tuesday when police used tear gas in a raid on the UNM headquarters to arrest Melia.
Melia, a charismatic 41-year-old politician who has united Georgia’s traditionally divided opposition forces against the governing party, has denounced as politically motivated his prosecution on charges of “organising mass violence” during the 2019 anti-government protests.
On Tuesday, thousands took to the streets and opposition parties announced more mass protests to demand Melia’s liberation and new polls.
Melia’s lawyer Giorgi Kondakhishvili said he was awaiting a court decision on the possibility of appealing his client’s detention.