Hundreds of people demonstrate in Rustavi, expressing their solidarity with opposition leader Melia a day after his arrest.
Hundreds of supporters of the jailed opposition leader in Georgia gathered outside the prison as the political crisis in the country shows little sign of abating.
Georgia has been in the throes of a crisis since the parliamentary elections in October last year, which opposition parties denounced as rigged after the ruling party, Georgian Dream, won a narrow victory.
The arrest this week of Nika Melia – leader of Georgia’s main opposition United National Movement (UNM) – has further exacerbated the political crisis.
On Wednesday, a procession with hundreds of Melia supporters arrived in the southeastern town of Rustavi to hold a rally outside the prison.
“We are here to express our solidarity with Nika,” Zaal Udumashvili, a UNM leader, told reporters.
Gigi Ugulava, of the Georgian European opposition party, called Melia a “political prisoner”.
“The protests will continue until all political prisoners are released and snap polls are launched,” Ugulava said.
Opposition parties said the parliamentary elections were fraudulent and refused to enter a new parliament and demanded new polls.
The standoff took on a dangerous new dimension on Tuesday when police used tear gas in a raid on UNM headquarters to arrest Melia.
Melia, a charismatic 41-year-old politician who united the traditionally divided Georgian opposition forces against the ruling party, denounced as politically motivated his prosecution of “organizing mass violence” during the 2019 anti-government protests.
Thousands of people took to the streets on Tuesday and opposition parties announced more mass protests to demand Melia’s release and new ballots.
Melia’s attorney, Giorgi Kondakhishvili, said he was awaiting a court ruling on whether to appeal his client’s detention.