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EU Posts Bail to Free Jailed Georgia Opposition Leader

FILE - Opposition MP Nika Melia speaks to reporters outside the Tbilisi City Court, in Tbilisi, Georgia, June 27, 2019.
FILE - Opposition MP Nika Melia speaks to reporters outside the Tbilisi City Court, in Tbilisi, Georgia, June 27, 2019.

The European Union said Saturday that it had posted bail for Georgia's jailed opposition leader, Nika Melia, paving the way for his release and ending a protracted political crisis in the Caucasus country.

Melia, the chairman of Georgia's main opposition force, the United National Movement (UNM), was arrested in February in a violent police raid on his party headquarters, sparking protests and condemnation from the West.

His release is expected to end the political crisis that has gripped the ex-Soviet republic since October parliamentary polls the opposition denounced as rigged.

"Today, a bail worth 40,000 GEL ($11,600) was posted in order to allow for Mr. Melia's release from pre-trial detention," the EU delegation to Georgia said in a statement, terming it "an important step taken to end the political crisis in Georgia."

The timing of when Melia, 41, will be released was not immediately clear.

His lawyer, Giorgi Kondakhishvili, told AFP he was "now awaiting steps by the prosecutor's office."

Refused to pay bail

Melia's February arrest followed a court order to place him in pre-trial detention after he refused to pay an increased bail fee ahead of hearings in a case related to anti-government demonstrations in 2019.

His party UNM had held out on signing last month's EU-mediated agreement to defuse the ex-Soviet republic's political crisis signed by the ruling Georgian Dream party and almost all opposition parties, saying it would do so only once Melia was released from prison.

EU mediation

Melia had united Georgia's traditionally fractured opposition ahead of October's disputed elections, emerging as a respected cross-party leader who developed an unprecedented, unified opposition front against Georgian Dream's rule.

After the October vote in which Georgian Dream won a narrow victory, opposition parties refused to take up their seats in the new parliament and staged mass protests demanding new elections.

Melia's arrest sparked fresh anti-government protests and strong condemnation from the United States and European Union, worried over Georgia's backsliding on democracy.

European Council President Charles Michel initiated interparty talks in March and helped bring the Georgian government and opposition parties to an agreement the next month.

Pledge of reforms

The deal commits opposition parties to enter parliament, while Georgian Dream has pledged sweeping political, electoral and judicial reforms.

Under the agreement, the ruling party pledged to resolve cases of "perceived politicized justice" through amnesties or similar measures within a week — the clause that concerns the criminal case against Melia.

Brussels also offered to post bail on Melia's behalf to have him released from custody before the amnesty bill is passed.

But the UNM in April threatened the pact, vowing to hold anti-government rallies this month and withholding from signing.

The refusal by UNM and another opposition party, European Georgia, to sign the deal and to end their parliamentary boycott has left around 40 seats vacant in Georgia's 150-member legislature.

Georgia's exiled ex-president and UNM's founder, Mikheil Saakashvili, last month urged his party to sign the agreement despite its "serious shortcomings" and to enter parliament after Melia's release from custody.