Thousands of protesters blocked the main avenue in Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia, to protest the arrest of Nika Melia, the leader of the main opposition party in the region.
On Tuesday, the crowd gathered outside the State Chancellery of Tbilisi and later the nearby parliament house, blocking Rustaveli Road, demanding the immediate release of Melia and early elections.
The development came several hours after the police raided the headquarters of the United National Movement (UNM) and detained Melia after the prime minister resigned days after a dispute about whether to take the popular politician into custody.
Another opposition party’s leader, Lelo, called for a “peaceful, unwavering fight to defend Georgian democracy.”
“Liberation of political prisoners and snap parliamentary elections are the only possible way out of the crisis,” Mamuka Khazaradze said, speaking to journalists on behalf of all opposition leaders.
Robin Forestier-Walker of Al Jazeera, reporting from Tbilisi, said more people were expected to join the demonstrators later in the day, but the numbers may be affected by the country’s 9pm coronavirus-related curfew.
“The opposition is very angry about what happened. There are calls for a snap election. Even some members of the government party are saying that there might be time for a snap election,” he said.
Early on Tuesday, live TV footage showed Melia being pulled from his office to be put in pre-trial custody.
Images broadcast by Mtavari TV showed that hundreds of riot police used tear gas against his supporters who were camping out in the house. There were also scores of opposition supporters arrested.
Footage from inside UNM offices reported by the media outlet Sputnik Georgia showed Melia barricaded with some of his supporters inside a room, while opposition activists clashed on the street with police.
Last week, a Tbilisi court agreed to put Melia in pre-trial detention, accused of organizing “mass violence” during anti-government protests in 2019.
“We call on both the representatives of political parties and their supporters to protest in a peaceful manner to refrain from violent actions and not interfere with the court’s decision,” Sputnik Georgia quoted the interior ministry as saying, referring to the order to have Melia detained.
The ministry added in a statement that in the police activity, “police used proportional force and special means.”