Arrest of Opposition Leader in Georgia Raises Fear of Growing Instability

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A member of the United National Movement, Zaal Udumashvili, told local news outlets, “We are ready to sit down at the negotiating table, provided that Nika Melia will also be sitting at the table.” Several thousand people protested Mr. Melia’s arrest in central Tbilisi on Tuesday evening.

Underlying the political crisis are accusations from the opposition that a billionaire who went into politics, Bidzina Ivanishvili, a backer of the governing party, has destroyed the country’s pluralistic institutions, something Mr. Ivanishvili denies.

Shota Utiashvili, vice president of the Atlantic Council of Georgia, said in a telephone interview, “Georgia has been labeled as a beacon of democracy in the region, and it’s really unfortunate to see it sliding toward these signs of authoritarianism.”

“Georgia has never been a perfect democracy, but at least its trajectory was in the right direction,” he added.

The arrest has also roiled Georgian Dream, the governing party. The prime minister, Giorgi Gakharia, a member of the party, resigned last week to protest the issuing of a warrant for Mr. Melia’s detention. “Polarization and confrontation pose the greatest risks to our country’s future,” he said.

The escalating standoff over the disputed election has alarmed Western diplomats who for years have held up Georgia as a democratic success story in the former Soviet Union.

The State Department issued a statement last week saying it was “deeply concerned” about the political parties’ inability to resolve the election dispute. The United States, it said, called “on all parties to exercise restraint and avoid any actions or rhetoric that could escalate tensions or result in violence.”

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