Less than 24 hours after electing a new Prime Minister, the leader of the largest opposition party in Georgia was arrested in a morning raid by police at the party's HQ in Tbilisi.
Reacting to the news on Tuesday 23 February, ALDE Party President Hans van Baalen issued the following statement:
“I am deeply concerned by the forceful arrest of the Nika Melia, leader of the opposition United National Movement party, in a raid with tear gas on the party’s HQ early this morning.”
“At a sensitive moment of ongoing political crisis exacerbated by the ongoing pandemic, resorting to force, inflaming political tensions and suppressing dissenting voices is absolutely not the solution that Georgian citizens deserve.”
“We urgently call for restraint, calm, and for political differences to be resolved in parliament and not through heavy-handed and arbitrary arrests of opposition figures.“
“We call on the governing Georgian Dream party to engage with the opposition and work together towards setting a date for new free, fair, and transparent elections, and we urge the EU leaders meeting later this week to send the same strong message.”
Later that afternoon, thousands of protesters gathered outside the Parliament building in Tbilisi.
Last Thursday, Prime Minister Giorgi Gakharia tendered his resignation because of a disagreement with his own team over enforcing an arrest warrant issued for Mr Melia. Georgia's ruling party swiftly nominated Irakli Garibashvili, who had previously served as Prime Minister from November 2013 to December 2015, to assume the position, which was confirmed by the Parliament on Monday 22 February.
Ahead of his confirmation, Hans van Baalen in his additional capacity as President of Honour of Liberal International, penned an open letter to Mr Garibashvili in which he urged the incoming Prime Minister that to address the post-election crisis in Georgia that is "is now more urgent than ever - the next steps require engagement and an end to the political deadlock, not further punitive legal action against members of the opposition". The letter in full can be read here.