RFE/RL – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (Author)
TBILISI -- A Georgian court has turned down a request by prosecutors to jail an opposition lawmaker who is charged with inciting a riot during last week’s protests in the Georgian capital.
The June 27 decision regarding Niki Melia comes amid continuing anger among Georgians about how the government handled the demonstrations that erupted beginning on June 20.
Prosecutors had sought to jail Melia pending trial, saying he called on protesters to storm the parliament building. But the Tbilisi court rejected that motion.
Melia has called the charge against him absurd, and opposition parties have issued a joint statement denouncing the move as "political persecution."
More than 240 people were injured when police fired rubber bullets and water cannons to turn back crowds trying to enter the parliament building on June 20.
The protests were sparked by the visit of an official Russian delegation to the Caucasus country's parliament, including a Russian lawmaker who sat in the Georgian parliamentary speaker's seat while addressing a group of officials from predominantly Orthodox Christian countries.
Demonstrations continued for a seventh night on June 26, though they were smaller than previous nights.
Some protesters wore eye patches in solidarity with an 18-year old girl who lost an eye to a rubber bullet in an earlier demonstration.
The protest ended with the crowd singing the European Union anthem.
Earlier on June 26, parliament voted to strip Melia of his immunity, though the vote was boycotted by opposition parties.
President Salome Zurabishvili said the police response to protesters was being investigated and "those who should bear the penalty should be punished."
A large majority of Georgians are openly hostile to Russia, nine years after a five-day war that resulted in Russian forces occupying two breakaway regions.
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