Giorgi Gakharia says he’s stepping down because of disagreement in the government over enforcing a court order to arrest opposition leader Nika Melia.
Georgia's Prime Minister Giorgi Gakharia has resigned over plans to arrest a top opposition leader, saying it risked escalating a political crisis in the ex-Soviet nation.
Gakharia on Thursday said he was stepping down because of disagreement in the government over enforcing a court order to arrest Nika Melia, saying to do so would "pose a risk to the health and lives of our citizens and increase political polarisation in the country".
A court in Georgia on Wednesday ruled to place the country's top opposition leader in pre-trial detention, in a case denounced by the opposition as a political witch hunt.
The move to arrest Nika Melia, chairman of the country's main opposition force, the United National Movement (UNM), risks further fuelling the political crisis that has gripped Georgia following parliamentary elections in October.
His supporters have vowed to obstruct police if they move to arrest him.
Georgia's independent TV stations have aired footage of riot police deployed close to the UNM headquarters.
On Wednesday evening, a court in the capital Tbilisi granted the prosecution's request to send to pre-trial detention the 41-year-old politician who is accused of organising "mass violence" during 2019 anti-government protests.
The prosecution's motion followed Melia's refusal to pay an increased bail fee. He initially posted bail in 2019.
Melia, who faces up to nine years behind bars if found guilty, has rejected the charges as politically motivated.
"The case against me is judicial nonsense. Paying bail twice is nonsense. It is part of ongoing repr essions against the opposition," he told AFP.
"There is no single opposition leader in Georgia, no single independent media outlet that doesn't face criminal prosecution on trumped-up charges," Melia added.
In a statement ahead of the trial, the European Union envoy to Georgia described the circumstances surrounding Melia's prosecution as a "dangerous trajectory for Georgia and for Georgian democracy".
All of the ex-Soviet country's opposition parties are boycotting parliament, refusing to assume their mandates after elections marred by irregularities.
The opposition boycott weighs heavily on the political legitimacy of the ruling Georgian Dream party, controlled by oligarch and former prime minister Bidzina Ivanishvili.
Leaders of nearly all of the country's opposition parties gathered Wednesday at the UNM party headquarters in Tbilisi ahead of the trial in the event that police move to arrest Melia.
"We will not surrender Melia. If police hit us, we will fight physically and hit them back," leader of the European Georgia party, Gigi Ugulava, told journalists.
On Tuesday, Georgia's parliament voted to strip Melia of immunity from prosecution that he is guaranteed as a lawmaker, paving the way for his pre-trial detention.
The Georgian branch of the Transparency International rights watchdog said the "selective prosecution against the chairperson of the largest opposition party will seriously harm democracy in the country."
In power since 2012, Georgian Dream has seen its popularity fall due to discontent over its failure to address economic stagnation and perceived backsliding on commitments to democracy.