EU urges parties in ex-Soviet Georgia to ease tensions

International

In this photo provided by the Georgian Presidential Press Office, Georgia’s President Salome Zurabishvili, right, speaks during a joint news briefing with European Council President Charles Michel in Tbilisi, Georgia, Monday, March 1, 2021 (Georgian Presidential Press Office via AP)

TBILISI, Georgia (AP) — A top European Union official visited ex-Soviet republic Georgia on Monday and urged all of its parties to engage in a dialogue to resolve the country’s political crisis.

“My visit coincides with an aggravating political crisis in Georgia, which deeply worries the European Union, and I am also personally deeply worried by it,” European Council President Charles Michel said.

The political situation in Georgia has been tense amid allegations of voter fraud in the country’s Oct. 31 parliamentary election. The ruling Georgian Dream party won the vote, but the opposition United National Movement has refused to concede defeat and demanded a rerun.

Tensions escalated last week following the arrest of the United National Movement’s leader, Nika Melia. He faces charges of inciting violence during protests that erupted in 2019 when a Russian lawmaker sat in the parliament speaker’s chair during a meeting of lawmakers from Orthodox Christian countries.

Melia had been freed on bail, but was arrested again last week on charges of violating bail terms.

Thousands of opposition supporters marched across the Georgian capital last week to demand Melia’s release and call for early parliamentary elections.

“The European Union calls upon all parties to intensify their efforts to stabilize the situation and find a common middle ground,” Michel said after talks with Georgian President Salome Zurabishvili. “During our meeting, I reiterated this call for action, for responsibility, and for a dialogue between political parties, including opposition and the government.”

Michel also held a meeting with Georgia’s new prime minister, Irakli Garibashvili, and members of the country’s opposition parties and called it “an important step in the right direction.”

“We had the opportunity to listen to each other and we understand that there are many difficult topics that need to be tackled by the political actors,” Michel said after the meeting.

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