Georgian Parliament Strips Opposition Lawmaker Of Immunity Over Violent Protests

TBILISI -- Georgia's parliament has voted to strip an opposition lawmaker of his parliamentary immunity and agreed to his detention following last week's violent protests.

The Prosecutor-General’s Office on June 25 formally charged Nika Melia, a leader of former President Mikheil Saakashvili's United National Movement party, with inciting and participating in a riot on June 20.

The office also appealed to parliament to consider suspending Melia's immunity and agreeing to his detention.

"We should not fight these people but save them because they are prisoners," Melia said after the vote on June 26, referring to the lawmakers who unanimously supported the recommendation by the Prosecutor-General's Office. "The majority did not want to do it, but they acted against their will."

Opposition lawmakers boycotted the vote in parliament.

Melia has rejected the charge against him as "absurd," while opposition parties on June 25 issued a joint statement denouncing the move as "political persecution."

Melia faces up to nine years in prison if convicted.

Thousands of protesters rallied in the Georgian capital, Tbilisi, for a sixth consecutive day on June 25, demanding, among other things, the dismissal of Interior Minister Giorgi Gakharia, whom they accuse of using excessive force to break up a demonstration five days before.

The protesters were also angered by the announcement that Melia was facing prosecution over the anti-government protests.

Demonstrators initially gathered outside parliament on June 20 when they attempted to storm the parliament building. Violent clashes between protesters and the police resulted in hundreds of injuries and arrests.

The protesters were angered at a Russian lawmaker who had sat in the Georgian parliament speaker's seat while addressing a council of deputies from predominantly Orthodox Christian countries.

The move sparked the ire of the public, opposition parties, the president, and members of the ruling Georgian Dream coalition in a country where ties with Moscow remain strained after a five-day war in 2008.

With reporting by Reuters