June 26, 2019 / 3:37 PM / 21 days ago

Georgian parliament strips opposition MP of immunity over unrest

FILE PHOTO: Nika Melia, a mayoral candidate from an opposition United National Movement party, speaks to media after voting during the local election in Tbilisi, June 15, 2014. REUTERS/David Mdzinarishvili

TBILISI (Reuters) - Georgia’s parliament on Wednesday stripped an opposition lawmaker of immunity and ordered him arrested to answer allegations that he helped orchestrate anti-government protests last week that turned violent.

The protests broke out after Russian lawmaker Sergei Gavrilov, invited to Georgia by local pro-government deputies, addressed the chamber from the speaker’s chair in Russian.

That gesture unleashed simmering resentment among many Georgians, who feel angry and humiliated they have to maintain friendly ties with Moscow even though Russia briefly invaded their country in 2008 and still backs two breakaway regions.

The government in Tbilisi has for years sought to smooth over differences with Moscow.

In a vote boycotted by opposition lawmakers, who called it “political farce”, parliament supported a call by the prosecutor general to strip Nika Melia - one of the leaders of the main opposition National Movement - of his immunity.

The prosecutor’s office said Melia was suspected of organising the protests, including an attempt to storm the legislature that led to violent clashes with police, who fired tear gas and rubber bullets. Hundreds of people were injured, some seriously.

Melia denied the accusations and said the protest was peaceful.

Other opposition leaders and activists say police used excessive force to break up the demonstration and, with protests continuing, have called on Interior Minister Giorgi Gakharia to resign.

Reporting by Margarita Antidze; Editing by John Stonestreet

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