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Georgian prime minister resigns over plan to arrest opposition leader

Georgian Prime Minister Giorgi Gakharia has announced his resignation over disagreements with his own team over plans to arrest Nika Melia, the chairman of Georgia’s main political opposition group.

The 45-year-old Gakharia, who opposed the detention, made the announcement on Thursday, prompting celebration from Melia’s United National Movement (UNM) and calls for early elections.

“Unfortunately, I was unable to reach a consensus with my team on this issue, so I have decided to resign,” Gakharia said in a statement.

“I’ve made the decision to leave my post. Of course, I believe and want to believe that this step will contribute to lowering the level of polarization in our country,” added the premier, who had held the post since September 2019.

According to Gakharia, the detention of Melia, who had been accused of inciting violence at anti-government street protests back in June 2019, was unacceptable.

“If it creates a risk to the health and the lives of our citizens or creates the possibility for political escalation,” Gakharia stressed, criticizing the decision to arrest Melia.

The resignation announcement came just a day after a court in the capital, Tbilisi, ordered that Melia be taken into custody for allegedly failing to post bail. Melia has dismissed the charge as politically motivated.

Shortly after Gakharia said he stepped down, the Interior Ministry announced it was temporarily postponing carrying out the order to take Melia into custody.

Reports also said that following the resignation announcement, a crowd gathered outside the UNM’s offices and waved Georgian flags in celebration.

Melia, who faces nine years in prison if convicted, called for early elections.

“On behalf of all opposition parties, I declare: let’s sit at the negotiating table with representatives of this government and start negotiations on new early elections,” Melia said.

Other opposition parties had also slammed the court order to arrest Melia.

The ruling Georgian Dream party is now expected to name a new premier and cabinet members within a week, pending the approval of Georgian President Salome Zourabichvili.

The party won parliamentary elections in October last year, but the opposition alleged that the vote had been rigged and marred with violations.

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