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Georgia court orders release of opposition leader

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Nika Melia, chairman of the United National Movement (UNM) opposition party, who is accused of inciting violence at street protests in June 2019, attends a court hearing in Tbilisi, Georgia April 13, 2021. REUTERS/Irakli Gedenidze

A court in Georgia on Monday ordered the release of jailed opposition leader Nika Melia on bail that the EU posted over the weekend to defuse a political crisis in the Caucasus country, his lawyer said.

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The release of Melia — the chairman of Georgia’s main opposition force, the United National Movement (UNM) — was part of an agreement the ruling Georgian Dream party and opposition leaders signed last month under European Council President Charles Michel’s mediation.

It is expected to defuse the crisis that has gripped the Black Sea country since October parliamentary polls that the opposition denounced as rigged.

“The Tbilisi city court ordered the release of Melia on bail posted on Saturday by the EU,” his lawyer Dito Sadzaglishvili told AFP.

On Saturday, the European Union posted a bail worth $11,600 (9,500 euros) to allow for Melia’s release, describing it as “an important step taken to end the political crisis in Georgia”.

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Melia, 41, was arrested in February in a violent police raid on his party headquarters and placed 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.

He has denounced the case as politically motivated.

His arrest led Georgia’s prime minister to resign and sparked mass protests as well as strong international condemnation, as fears mounted in the West over the ex-Soviet republic’s perceived backsliding on democracy.

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