Opposition supporters wave flags following the announcement of Georgian Prime Minister Giorgi Gakharia's resignation outside the headquarters of the United National Movement (UNM) party in Tbilisi, Georgia February 18 2021. Picture: REUTERS/IRAKLI GEDENIDZE
Opposition supporters wave flags following the announcement of Georgian Prime Minister Giorgi Gakharia's resignation outside the headquarters of the United National Movement (UNM) party in Tbilisi, Georgia February 18 2021. Picture: REUTERS/IRAKLI GEDENIDZE

Georgia Prime Minister Giorgi Gakharia announced his resignation on Thursday, a move that prompted celebration from the opposition and calls for early elections.

Gakharia, who held the post since 2019, said he was stepping down because of a disagreement with his own team over the detention of Nika Melia, a prominent opposition politician, local media outlets reported.

“I’ve made the decision to leave my post,” Gakharia said, according to the Sputnik Georgia news outlet. “Of course, I believe and want to believe that this step will contribute to lowering the level of polarisation in our country.”

Gakharia said Melia’s detention was unacceptable if it threatened to fuel political divisions in the South Caucasus country of 3.7-million people.

Irakli Kobakhidze, chair of the Georgian Dream ruling party, said it planned to put forward a candidate to replace Gakharia on Friday.

A court in the capital Tbilisi on Wednesday ordered that Melia, chair of the United National Movement (UNM) opposition party, be taken into custody for allegedly failing to post bail.

Melia had been accused of inciting violence at street protests in June 2019, a charge he has dismissed as politically motivated.

After Gakharia’s resignation on Thursday, the interior ministry announced it was postponing carrying out the order to take Melia into custody. A crowd gathered outside his party’s offices and waved Georgian flags in celebration, according to Sputnik Georgia.

Inside UNM headquarters, Melia 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.

Georgian Dream won parliamentary elections in October 2020, but the opposition said the vote was rigged and marred by violations.

Melia said at the time that his party did not recognise its outcome and called for a rerun.

Reuters

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